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April 20 2017

Review: Witching and Bitching (Spain 2013)

Man, I wanted to like this – I generally enjoy Alex de la Iglesia movies, and I like what he’s doing for genre – but this black comedy about a bunch of idiot criminals who wander into a town full of witches was an unpleasant chore. Rampantly misogynistic in a way that never gets tweaked, full of tedious and unpleasant characters and irredeemable ugliness.

Hugo Silva is an utter dud as the lead – the notion that the lovely Carolina Bang would fall for him is so unsupported as to break the suspension of disbelief. While Santiago Segura is typically entertaining in a supporting role and the opening scene is pretty gripping, this is overall a disappointment, especially coming from the man who gave us Accion Mutante, The Day of the Beast, The Ferpect Crime, and 800 Bullets.

1 1/2 stars out of 4 (Mediocre).

Emancipated Cinema: A Conversation with Lav Diaz

MUBI's retrospective devoted to Filipino auteur Lav Diaz, It's About Time: The Cinema of Lav Diaz , is exclusively playing worldwide October 8, 2016 - July 27, 2017.
The wonderful Lav Diaz had a spectacular 2016—winning separate prizes for different new films at the Berlin (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery), Oberhausen (The day before the end) and Venice (The Woman Who Left) film festivals—and in-between shooting a new film has traveled to the United Kingdom to participate in a symposium at the University of Westminster. While in London, Lav dropped by MUBI's office to talk with us about his filmmaking process, celluloid vs. digital, future projects, and much more.
Reposted by02mysoup-aa 02mysoup-aa

Filme der Fünfziger XXXII: Du mein stilles Tal (1955)

Der dramatische Konflikt vieler Familien-, Heimat- und Gesellschaftsfilme der 50er entsteht mit der Entdeckung einer Verfehlung, einer Sünde oder Erblast. Rechnet man nach, wie lange das schuldbringende Ereignis zurückliegt, landet man meistens in der NS-Zeit und kann spekulieren, ob mit der Schuld auch verklausuliert Politisches verbunden und gemeint sein soll. Gerade das soll nicht sein; die Schuld ist eine persönliche, private und nahezu intime Verfehlung, die ganz zufällig in der NS-Zeit lokalisiert ist, mit der sie ansonsten aber auch rein gar nichts zu tun hat. Schuld soll immer nur persönlich gesehen werden.
Je länger sie zurückliegt, desto mehr relativiert sich die Schuld; ihre konkrete Thematisierung in der Gegenwart kann gefährlich werden, hat destruktives Potential und bedroht das Glück. Lohnt sich also moralische Rigidität oder ist es nicht besser, die Schuld – ist ja schon so lange her – auszuschweigen, zu verdrängen und zu leugnen? „Du mein stilles Tal“ hieß zunächst „Schweigepflicht“ und hat mit diesem Titel auch die Antwort parat; die rechtliche Verpflichtung von Geistlichen, Anwälten und Ärzten weitet der Film aus zu einem moralischen Anspruch an Jedermann. Nicht nur kann es besser sein zu schweigen, es kann sogar Deine Pflicht sein, weil sonst das System – hier die Familie – zusammenbricht. Im Umkehrschluss ist es dann pflichtvergessen und charakterlos, über die Schuld der Vergangenheit zu reden.

Hochzeit auf Gut Breithagen, Tochter Nicky (Ingeborg Schöner) heiratet mit großem Aufgebot– eine Prozession der Hochzeitsgesellschaft aus der Kirche mit Glockengeläut und Top-Shots der Kamera, eine Parade geschmückter Mercedes-Karossen mit Hurrah und Hoje, ein rasanter Aufgalopp des Reitervereins im Park des Gutes und Voltigier-Vorführungen der Jüngsten. Alle sind reich und glücklich, nur die Gutsherrin Elisabeth Breithagen liegt mit dem Schicksal überkreuz. „Es war“, so bekennt sie dem Hausarzt und Regisseur Leonard Steckel, „ein qualvoller innerer Kampf über 20 Jahre.“ Elisabeth („Ich möchte, dass Sie mich verstehen“) erzählt ihrem Arzt auf der Gartenbank ihre Geschichte. Vor 20 Jahren zeigte Rittmeister Breithagen (Curd Jürgens) ihr das Gut, den Hof, den Park, die Stallungen und das Land. Der Rittmeister mit gewienerten Reitstiefeln und Schal im offenem Hemdkragen zeigt und zeigt bis er es nicht mehr aushält und Elisabeth an sich reißt. Sie soll seine Frau werden, aber Elisabeth fremdelt.
Der Pianist Erik Linden (Bernhard Wicki) gibt zur selben Zeit in dem Städtchen ein Konzert; Linden ist sensibel, tiefsinnig, ein Mann von Welt mit einem Blick, dass es einem heiß den Rücken runtergeht. Er sagt: „Jetzt reise ich viel; Rom, Paris, Chicago, New York.“ Und in das Städtchen der Elisabeth, die ihm beim Klavierspiel für eine Nacht verfällt. Am nächsten Tag reist Linden ohne wirklichen Abschied weiter; enttäuscht und ohne Hoffnung gibt Elisabeth dem Rittmeister das Jawort, fällt bei der Hochzeit kurz in Ohnmacht und entdeckt mit dem Hausarzt, dass sie schwanger ist. Nein, der Rittmeister weiß nichts, bis heute nicht.
Auf der Parkbank der Gegenwart dann die bange Frage: „Muss ich schweigen?“ Der Hausarzt steht auf, schaut in die Ferne und liest im Horizont die Antwort: „Ich glaube ja, Sie würden sonst das Lebensglück der beiden Neuvermählten auf furchtbare Weise zerstören.“ Elisabeth erhebt sich tapfer: “Ich muss mit meiner Schuld alleine fertig werden.“
Acht Jahre nach der Hochzeit mit Gert Breithagen trifft sie Linden wieder in Berlin; er fährt ihr nach, will mit ihr, seiner späterkannten großen Liebe, nach Lateinamerika. Elisabeth zögert; sie will ja glücklich werden, aber was sagt denn die Kirche dazu? Hans Leibelt spricht als Pfarrer: „Das Leben Ihres Kindes ist hier auf dem Gut des Rittmeisters und Sie, die Mutter, gehören zu ihrem Kind.“ So gönnt sich Elisabeth nur einen dramatischen nächtlichen Abschiedskuss im Scheinwerferlicht, am Kreuzweg ihres Lebens. Curd Jürgens ahnte schon Betrug, betrank sich und verfiel mit stierem Blick – große Szene – einem Tobsuchtsanfall; seit Emil Jannings ist das im deutschen Film der finale Ausweg betrogener Männer.

Nun aber wieder Gegenwart, mit Hochzeitstrubel und Gästeschar. Unter den Gästen das „fremdartige, dunkle Mädchen“ Rita Borell (Nadja Regin), und auch Elisabeth ahnt Betrug, ist eifersüchtig und macht ihrem Gert ein spätes Liebesgeständnis. Zu spät, mit Bittermiene wird sie zurückgewiesen. „Ich lebte seit 20 Jahren mit einem Eisblock.“ Der Anwalt (Ernst Schröder), zum Schweigen verpflichtet, besorgt für Gert und Rita ein Haus auf Capri. Aber wird Rita Gert in 20 Jahren noch treu sein? Gert kommt blitzschnell zu sich, nein, das wird nichts. Tochter Nicky will mit ihrem Mann in die Flitterwochen, aber, an die Eltern gewandt: „Ich gehe nicht eher, als bis ihr mir sagt, was los ist.“ Das möchten jetzt auch alle Kinobesucher wissen. Curd Jürgens spricht, an Winnie Markus gewandt, die erlösenden Worte: “Nichts auf der Welt wird uns trennen.“ So hat sich die Verschwiegenheit doch gelohnt, zum Glück für alle und zum Extra-Glück für Nicky. Das Haus auf Capri geht jetzt an sie. Hoffen wir, dass sie dort nicht einem Typen so fremdartig und dunkel wie Bernhard Wicki verfällt.

Handlung, Posen und Dialoge könnten direkt Groschenromanserien wie „Die Truhe“ oder „Erika“ entnommen sein. Der Handlungsentwurf sah ursprünglich wohl anders aus. Pfarrer, Rechtsanwalt und Arzt wissen, dass die Tochter unehelich ist, dass das Gut vor dem Konkurs steht und der Gutsherr in die Hände einer Salonschlange gefallen ist. Davon blieben nur Rudimente. Auch die Besetzung ist wie auf dem Reißbrett entworfen. Jürgens hatte es schon in „Man nennt es Liebe“ mit der eher unkonventionellen Ehefrau Winnie Markus zu tun und war in „Gefangene der Liebe“ mit einem unehelichen Kind konfrontiert, dessen Vater wiederum Bernhard Wicki darstellte. Die drei Schauspieler waren in der Wahl ihrer Engagements nicht unbedingt wählerisch. Winnie Markus und Bernhard Wicki spielten 1955/56 jeder in 7 Spielfilmen, Curd Jürgens brachte es auf ein glattes Dutzend. 1955 hatte Jürgens für seine Darstellung in „Des Teufels General“ (R: Helmut Käuntner) in Venedig den Volpi Pokal bekommen; als er hörte, dass der Gloria Verleih den Titel des Films „Schweigepflicht“ in „Du mein stilles Tal“ ändern wollte, verklagte Jürgens die Produktionsfirma CCC auf Beibehaltung des ursprünglichen Titels. Er befürchtete, dass sein Marktwert durch die Mitwirkung an einem Heimatfilm sinken könnte. Offiziell ging es ihm und allen anderen Beteiligten um künstlerische Integrität. Ihre Namen sollten aus dem Vorspann entfernt werden, falls der Film unter dem Titel „Du mein stilles Tal“ laufen würde. Kurzzeitig erwog man den Titel „Erbe der Väter“, der mit dem Film aber noch weniger zu tun hatte als „Du mein stilles Tal“, das im Titellied „Im schönsten Wiesengrunde“ wenigstens angesprochen wird. Der Prozess machte viel Aufsehen, hatte aber so gut wie keinen Effekt. Die Künstler wurden weiterhin im Vorspann genannt, die Parteien (Gloria/CCC und Jürgens) einigten sich im Juli 1958 darauf, den Prozess einzustellen und sich die Prozesskosten zu teilen. „Du mein stilles Tal“ landete in der Liste der bestbesuchten Filme der Saison 1955/ 56 auf Platz 35.

 

 

 

 

 

April 19 2017

Artist of the Day: Bernharda Xilko

Discover the art of Bernharda Xilko, Cartoon Brew's Artist of the Day.

The post Artist of the Day: Bernharda Xilko appeared first on Cartoon Brew.

Moonbot Studios Is Relaunching In Shreveport

Bill Joyce, one of the co-founders of Moonbot Studios, is re-establishing the company in its original city, Shreveport, Louisiana.

The post Moonbot Studios Is Relaunching In Shreveport appeared first on Cartoon Brew.

Rushes. Jonathan Demme, Cannes Jury, Reactionary French Comedy, Academy Museum

Get in touch to send in cinephile news and discoveries
NEWS
Jonathan Demme with Anthony Hopkins on the set of The Silence of the Lambs
  • We are very saddened to learn that the American director Jonathan Demme has died at 73. Demme won a Best Director Academy Award for The Silence of the Lambs, but that hardly summarizes or rewards the remarkable extent of his beautiful filmmaking. Just last year he released one of his very best works, the concert film Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids. Below is his 1985 music video for New Order's "The Perfect Kiss":
  • Last year's jury for the Cannes Film Festival was lambasted as misguided after awarding the Palme d'Or not to Maren Ade's Toni Erdmann but to Ken Loach's I, Blake. The 2017 jury, headed by Pedro Almodóvar, has been announced and seems an attempt to make up for last year's kerfuffle: directors Maren Ade, Agnès Jaoui, Park Chan-wook, and Paolo Sorrentino, actors Jessica Chastain, Fan Bingbing, and Will Smith, and composer Gabriel Yared.
RECOMMENDED VIEWING
  • Sofia Coppola's remake of Don Siegel's The Beguiled will soon premiere in Competition in the Cannes Film Festival, and the new trailer for it looks appropriately lush and lurid.
  • It seems like new trailer for restored classics keep on coming, and we can't get enough of 'em. StudioCanal has a new one for Federico Fellini's whimsical extension of Neo-Realism, La strada (1954).
  • You may have seen Camilo Restrepo's fabulous Cilaos last autumn when we showed it on MUBI in partnership with the New York Film Festival. Now the director has a trailer for a new short, La bouche, which is headed to the Directors' Fortnight in Cannes.
RECOMMENDED READING
À bras ouverts (With Open Arms)
The central question of French cinema’s role in conveying political ideas surely must focus on popular comedies, and in particular on a vein of bigotry that aligns them with far right ideology.
It’s not odd for the industry to protect its financial interests. What is odd, however, is the deference of critics and editors to those interests. I’ve had the pleasure and honor of contributing to several print and online publications’ year-end polls, and they all follow the Academy’s lead in determining eligibility in terms of theatrical release (with separate categories for “unreleased” or “undistributed” films); I confess that, when I put my year-end lists together, I generally follow the same guidelines, in order to maintain a clear basis of comparison with the choices of other critics and the state of the industry at large. But it’s clear that the industry is drastically changing, and that those changes have certain major advantages for some filmmakers.
  • The latest issue of online feminist film journal cléo is out, themed around "soft": "In some contexts, softness is a good thing; we think of soft skin, emotional intelligence, a safe space. In others, softness is code for weakness: easily swayed opinions, a lack of rigour or virility. We’re looking for submissions that ask questions about what it means to show softness onscreen." Included are articles on 9 to 5, nunsploitation, Jane Campion, and "soft cock."
Academy Museum
If the Academy Museum is shaping up as a “Heaven’s Gate”-style fiasco, then the role of Michael Cimino belongs to Piano. The Italian Pritzker-winner is one of the world’s most renowned architects. His hiring in 2012 was seen as a powerful signal of the Academy’s grand ambitions for the project.
Piano’s concept for the museum revolved around the theater — a massive 130-foot sphere that he likened to a “soap bubble” or a “spaceship.” When it was unveiled, it was tagged by critics as looking more akin to the Death Star.
One example I can give you of Lubitsch’s thinking was in Ninotchka, a romantic comedy that Brackett and I wrote for him. Ninotchka was to be a really straight Leninist, a strong and immovable Russian commissar, and we were wondering how we could dramatize that she, without wanting to, was falling in love. How could we do it? Charles Brackett and I wrote twenty pages, thirty pages, forty pages! All very laboriously.
Lubitsch didn’t like what we’d done, didn’t like it at all. So he called us in to have another conference at his house. We talked about it, but of course we were still, well . . . blocked. In any case, Lubitsch excused himself to go to the bathroom, and when he came back into the living room he announced, Boys, I’ve got it.
It’s funny, but we noticed that whenever he came up with an idea, I mean a really great idea, it was after he came out of the can. I started to suspect that he had a little ghostwriter in the bowl of the toilet there.
RECOMMENDED LISTENING
EXTRAS
  • Two young directors: Orson Welles and Agnès Varda.

Milagros Mumenthaler Introduces Her Film "The Idea of a Lake"

MUBI is showing Milagros Mumenthaler's film The Idea of a Lake (2016) in most countries around the world from April 23 - May 23, 2017 in partnership with Locarno Festival in Los Angeles.
The Idea of a Lake
The Idea of a Lake comes from the book by Guadalupe Gaona, Pozo de aire ("Air Pocket"), an autobiographical work that focuses on the absence of her father, who disappeared in March 1976, during the civilian-military dictatorship in Argentina.
In order to respect the book—because of the author, for its subject and due to the effect that it had on me—I knew from the very beginning that the film had to be based in two axes: one, the documented material; and the other one, the memory, where imagination and remembrance mingle and break into the present.
This was the basis of the film and throughout all the process of making it, I tried not to betray that spirit. I figured out a protagonist, Inés, who is trying to finish a photo book of her father during the pregnancy of her first child. What's going on through her mind? The need of giving answers to her future baby moves her to try to find them herself. In that process, her own relationship falters and a strong conflict between mother and daughter about the father's disappearance arises.
I tried not to tell the historical-political facts in order to focus on what the father figure leaves behind and how to live with that absence.

ART DECADES Issue 11 Featuring Ian Preston Cinnamon of aTelecine is Now Available


Issue 11 of ART DECADES is now available on Amazon! Our feature piece is a 26 page spread of unreleased photos by aTelecine founder Ian Preston Cinnamon, who is also responsible for our beautiful cover photo of Belladonna. The issue also contains several tributes to William Peter Blatty, including a moving piece by Bryce WilsonKelley Avery-Richey interviews the hip-hop trio Loyal-TMarcelline Block interviews photographer  Miles Ladin  and Tara Hanks interviews author Michelle Morgan. Original photospreads are also included along with some additional surprises. Thanks so much to our contributors for their great work and readers for the continued support!

Copies are available at Amazon , Createspace and eBay.

Follow us at Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram.  

Best Colleges to Prepare for a Career in Astronomy

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TRAILER: ‘Spirit Riding Free’ Takes The Dreamworks Franchise In A New Direction

Remember the 2002 hand-drawn Dreamworks feature "Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron" starring the voice of Matt Damon? Well, this new series is not that.

The post TRAILER: ‘Spirit Riding Free’ Takes The Dreamworks Franchise In A New Direction appeared first on Cartoon Brew.

Hong Kong International Film Festival 2017: Beaten Black and Blue (Kim Soo-hyun, Südkorea 2016)

 

 Vor einem sozio-politischen Hintergrund entfaltet sich dieses sehr spezielle Independent-Drama, das nur so vor körperlicher Gewalt strotzt. Es wird jedoch sehr schnell deutlich, wie sehr der Film darum ringt, überhaupt erst einmal eine allgemein notwendige, politische Wissensbasis zu etablieren - denn im wilden Zitieren von Politikernamen und Ereignissen, Studentenprotesten, regionalen Konflikten und Machtverschiebungen in verschiedenen politischen wie konterrevolutionären Zusammenhängen ist der Zuschauer schnell verloren. Da nutzt es auch wenig, diese Verhältnisse erläuternd im obigen Bildkader als Texterklärung einzublenden, wenn am unteren Bildrand in rasender Schnelligkeit die Untertitel zum gerade stattfindenden Dialog vorbeihuschen. Möglicherweise ist das im Heimvideobereich stemmbar, ganz sicher aber nicht im Kino. Ich fühlte mich jedenfalls überfordert, und das, obwohl ich mich ganz gut in der koreanischen Geschichte, mit all ihren Verwicklungen der letzten Jahrzehnte, auskenne.

 Ein weiteres offensichtliches Problem des Films ist dann die konkrete Realisierung des Plots, der sich eben nur nebenher, sozusagen als Hintergrundfolie, mit diesen Ereignissen beschäftigt. Über den Umweg der Machenschaften eines Lokalpolitikers, der einen jungen Studenten, die eigentliche Hauptfigur des Films, in seine Fänge bekommt. Dieser Student, ein Loser vor dem Herrn, interessiert sich eigentlich nur für Alkohol und Mädels. Und darauf "versteift" sich dann auch der Film: die Erlebnisse eines jungen Mannes mit seiner Latte. Wie interessant das nun ist, im Jahr 2016/2017, muss jeder für sich selbst entscheiden - ich kann es eigentlich kaum mehr sehen. Ein typischer Topos des sich ach so radikal gebärdenden Indie-Kinos ist der Fokus auf die Unterhose. Das muss nun wirklich nicht mehr sein, auch wenn der Protagonist noch so toll aussieht.

 Was sonst noch alles passiert, verliert sich in Bildern der Kälte, des beginnenden Schneefalls in der Großstadt Seoul; auch im Zusammenspiel mit den Erlebnissen einer alternden Prostituierten, die "mit ihrer Muschi das neue Korea aufgebaut" habe - sie musste sich den amerikanischen Besatzungssoldaten verkaufen, um überleben zu können. Heute dankt ihr das freilich keiner mehr. Und diese wirklich bedrückende Erzählung, die in diesem Film drinsteckt, die wird leider nur angerissen. Stattdessen verbleibt er bei dem jungen Wilden, bei Erlebnissen, die wirklich keinen mehr hinterm Ofen hervorlocken. Der Mann schaut sich Yoga-Videos im Netz an, um dadurch zu lernen, wie man sich selbst einen blasen könnte. Naja, auf diesem Niveau eben. Wenn er dann auch noch eine Frau auf brutale Weise zusammenschlägt, ist es endlich Zeit, das Kino zu verlassen.

Michael Schleeh

***

Film noir, a hundred years ago

Romance 1 500

A Romance of the Air (1918).

DB here:

One of the most persistent conventions in American cinema associates dark images with dangerous doings—crime, mystery, violence, espionage, sexual depredations, visits from beyond the grave. The strategy is most apparent in what critics eventually called film noir. Those 1940s “films of darkness” are sometimes said to derive from German Expressionist cinema, but the look was already a Hollywood tradition. Filmmakers had long treated scenes of mystery and suspense with hard, low-key lighting that yielded rich chiaroscuro.

When does it start? You can find very early examples, but it seems to have crystallized during the 1910s. Kristin has talked about this as a period when filmmakers were collectively struggling to tell somewhat lengthy stories in a clear fashion. Along with clarity, she argues, came efforts to add emotional impact to a scene. Those included dynamic staging, fast cutting, close-up framings, subtle but arresting performance styles, ambitious camera movements, and lighting that enhanced the mood or impact of the action. She points to many European and American films of the years 1912-1916 that flaunt silhouettes and selective lighting.

I found a lot of prototypes of noirish images during my recent trawling through Library of Congress films from 1914-1918. In this era, it seems, filmmakers competed to create striking, even shocking, lighting effects. Later directors and cinematographers would adopt many of them as proven tools for boosting their scenes’ emotional power.

So today’s entry is mostly just some pictures that try to convince you, once more, that the 1910s laid down a great deal of what we take for granted in films ever since. You may want to turn up your display. We’re going dark.

 

No sunshine here

Start with the shot up top, from the independent production A Romance of the Air (1918). Produced by and starring Bert Hall, flyboy and author of the source book, it traces how German spies posing as French refugees win his confidence and try to steal secrets about troop movements. It was released in the month of the Armistice, and it got what appears to be a welcome reaction from audiences.

A Romance of the Air, nearly amateurish in its opening stretches, gets more competent as it goes along. But there’s only one real uptick from a pictorial viewpoint. Two spies have attempted to gas Edith, Bert’s sweetheart, but fortunately their incompetence leads them to the wrong room. They meet outside the house, and suddenly we get a shot that had me hollering.

As the man lights a cigarette, a low-slung angle shows the flare of the match illuminating his hatbrim and the countess beside him. In the upper left Edith peers down from a window. We might be in Hollywood, 1945, perhaps in the hands of production designer William Cameron Menzies or ace DP John Alton.

It’s interesting that a title pops in here, coaxing the audience to notice the face at the window.

Romance 2 400

The mistaken placement of “From up above” tells you something of the clumsiness of this whole production. Yet bad grammar is redeemed when we return to the framing as the spies twist around in surprise and the man clutches the countess.

ROMANCE 3 400

Other filmmakers of the period would have trusted the audience to spot Edith, but nonetheless an undistinguished, forgotten film bequeathes us one bold moment.

We can see a more conventional look emerging when characters get sent to jail. By the end of the 1920s, filmmakers had found a way to crosslight cell bars to make them stand out crisply, as here in von Sternberg’s Thunderbolt (1929).

Thunderbolt 400

A jail scene in The Unknown (1915) isn’t so flashy, but the concept of edge-lighting the bars is there. If all you wanted was clarity, the naked cell door suffices, but the sidelight makes the barrier more vivid.

Unknown 300

At this point, some directors were willing to leave large patches of the image in darkness, even at the risk of off-balance compositions. This is not only expressive; it saves money on set construction. So trust Maurice Tourneur to go further. In Alias Jimmy Valentine (1915), one of the most accomplished films of the era, we get cons as patient silhouettes.

Alias Jimmy jail 400

No need to see their expressions; the outlines of their poses express their resignation.

Speaking of prisoners, consider the plight of Ivanoff, the revolutionary who has been sentenced to Siberia in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Man from Home (1914). He has escaped from the mines and taken refuge in a stable. Filing off his chains, he crouches as guards pass by outside. First, he’s in a glare, but when he hears them….

Man from Home 1 400     Man from 2 400

… he shifts into semi-shadow.

Man from 3 400

The guards’ approach is measured by a barely noticeable change: the gleaming surface on the far left is briefly darkened.

This is a bold instance of “Lasky lighting,” the brilliant effects which DeMille worked up with Wilfred Buckland, Belasco’s stage designer. Several films in my sample exemplify this style, which became part of Jesse Lasky’s Paramount brand. Examples are comparatively abundant because many Paramount films have survived from the silent era.

 

Camera obscura

In A Romance of the Air, the darkness is motivated as a night scene, and naturally prisons and hiding places are associated with danger. Another option is to stage scenes in darkened rooms, populated by sneaking and skulking characters. Again, the association with criminality is evident. In Alias Jimmy Valentine, hoods hide from cops and are visible thanks to diagonal edge lighting.

Alias Jimmy doorway 400

More dynamic are two suspense scenes in Madam Who (1918), the story of a plucky Southern belle who goes undercover for the Confederate cause. In the first, disguised as a man, she peers down from a hayloft to watch the meeting of the Sons of the North gang. We get an optical POV shot straight down, and then a close reaction shot, with a fish-hook of light snagging her face as she glances at us.

Madam Who POV 400     Madam Who reaction 400

Reginald Barker, one of the most resourceful directors of the era, didn’t let up in a later scene of Madam Who. Jeanne and the secret agent Henry Morgan get the drop on the Sons’ leader Kennedy. The action plays out in layers of darkness, with her poking a pistol out of the shadow, and it’s capped by a stark close-up.

Madam Who 3 400     Madam Who 4 400

In the late 1910s, several directors use such darkened interiors for fight scenes. In De Luxe Annie (1918), the heroine’s husband takes a brutal beating from the criminal he’s trapped. The accomplice runs to administer a hypodermic.

Deluxe annie fight 400

Something similar happens in The Family Skeleton (1918), when dissolute Billy (Charles Ray) battles the bully who has tormented him throughout the movie.

Family Skeleton 1 400      Family Skeleton 2 400

Shadow-filled rooms help amp up suspense during fistfights. We can’t be sure who’s winning, and the enveloping darkness can also suggest more savage violence than could be shown in normal light.

At the limit, you can stage a fight or a chase in a darkened area outdoors. The Sign of the Spade (1918) sets its climactic abduction and rescue under a seaside pier, and the silhouettes that result would not have shamed Panic in the Streets (1950).

Spade 1 400     Spade 2 400

As with the jail in Jimmy Valentine, we have to read the characters’ emotions–chiefly, the desperation of the fleeing woman–from their body language. And as often happens, the more we have to strain to see the action, the more gripping it becomes.

 

Billy and two Annies

DE LUXE ANNIE safe 450

De Luxe Annie (1918).

Of course what we call film noir includes more than visual style. Like many terms in the arts, film noir picks out a cluster concept. It links together distinctive subjects (urban life, abnormal mental states, misogyny), attitudes (alienation, nihilism, malaise, mistrust of authority and the upper class), themes (official corruption, revenge, male friendship and betrayal), plots (investigation, pursuit, deception), narrational devices (flashbacks, voice-over commentary, dreams and hallucinations), and visual techniques. Because noir is a cluster concept, eager acolytes can choose some noir-ish qualities of Film A and declare it a more or less plausible instance, while with Film B a quite different set of features might help it qualify too.

For example, in visual technique, only a few shots of Laura carry traces of the lighting style we think characteristic of noir. But the film does present a decadent, treacherous milieu harboring a mysterious, perhaps dangerous woman who may be feeding a man’s delusions and obsessions. Laura, I’d suggest, counts as a noir on thematic and narrative grounds more than on stylistic ones.

So do we find non-stylistic features of noir in the 1910s? Sometimes, yes. I’ll save my prime example, an intricate and beautiful thing, for an entry of its own. But here are two nifty cases where the visual pyrotechnics spring from familiar narrative and thematic pressures.

Billy Bates is warned that alcoholism runs in his family, but on getting his inheritance he holds a party and learns that he likes the stuff. Not needing to work, he keeps drinking. He falls in love with chorus girl Poppy Drayton, but when she’s insulted in a saloon he’s too crocked to defend her from the hulking Spider, who beats and shames him. Billy learns that Spider is planning to abduct Poppy and so lays a trap. He waits in Polly’s parlor, resolving to stay sober long enough to defend her. Unfortunately, there’s a decanter of scotch within easy reach….

The Family Skeleton (1918) was touted as a “semi-farcical production” but the semi- parts took alcohol addiction fairly seriously. The popular Ray often played the country-boy underdog, so audiences were probably unprepared to see him as a millionaire twitching from the D.T.’s. The scenes of his drunkenness are truly unnerving, even when the plot is lightened by the revelation that Spider is a detective hired by Poppy to force Billy to man up. Billy does, in the nocturnal fistfight illustrated above. There darkness makes Billy’s ultimate victory more plausible; we can’t really see his winning punches.

In the buildup to the fight, however, we get Billy’s growing anxiety over the scotch across the room. He stares at the decanter.

Fam Skel 1 400     Fam Skel 2 400

A cut shows us a condensed  mental image: what would happen if he drank the contents. In this hypothetical future, the decanter is empty, and in it we see Spider breaking in and carrying off Polly while drunken Billy lolls helplessly.

Fam Skel 3 400     Fam Skel 4 400

As in the hallucinations of The Lost Weekend (1945), the filmmaker has taken us inside the addict’s fantasy.

Other subjective effects, like memories and dreams, were common in silent cinema too, though usually not plunged so deeply in darkness. In De Luxe Annie (1918), Julie Kendall is worried that her husband is acting too dangerously in setting a trap for two dangerous swindlers. He will pose as an innocent mark and then arrest them when they try to con him. Julie’s concern emerges in a virtuoso split-screen dream sequence in which her husband is shot by the crook.

De Luxe annie 1 400     De Luxe annie 2 400

Later in the film, Julie will lose her memory and become the con man’s confederate, the new De Luxe Annie. The screenwriter’s old friend amnesia transforms an upper-class wife into down-at-heel swindler.

What triggers the amnesia? The most remarkable scene in the film. It’s either a brilliant coup or a happy accident, but either way it can stand as proof of the boiling energies of this era.

Worried about her husband, Julie follows him to the site of his trap. She goes in through the basement kitchen and enters almost total blackness. She stands in a tiny pool of light before a big double door, and it opens a crack.

Annie door 1 400     De Luxe annie door 2

Suddenly, and I mean instantly, the doors are wide open and we get a burst of light.

De Luxe annie door 3 400

A jump cut has eliminated the movement of the doors swinging open. (You can see the splice at the bottom of the second frame and the top of the third.) This is a very bold stylistic flourish.

Kristin suggests that it’s something of an accident. The overhead kitchen light is now lit up, and it was common at the time to cut out some frames when a light source is snapped on. That may be what led to this jump cut, though it’s not clear how anyone in the scene could have hit the power switch. In any event, the force of the cut is amplified by the ellipsis; the doors simply pop open.

Another pictorial surprise emerges when Julie moves a bit and it’s revealed that her figure has blocked De Luxe Annie, who’s facing her over the threshold. They start to grapple with one another and move into darkness on the right.

De Luxe annie door 4 400

Annie runs off, but Jimmy the con man is fleeing too, and he shows up to wrestle with Julie. A slamming axial cut shows him punching her fiercely in the head. The edge lighting here is remarkable.

Jimmy 1 400     Jimmy 2 400

Jimmy gets away, leaving Julie to stagger out and into the fog, now overtaken by amnesia. Later she’ll meet Jimmy again and become his new partner in crime.

This scene is even replayed as a brief flashback, when the original Annie recounts to Jennie’s husband the clash that led to Julie’s disappearance.

Door 3a     De Luxe annie door 4a

This is presented in a more unsurprising way, since there’s nothing new to be learned about the fight. The shot shows the full swinging open of the doors and a clearer revelation of Annie’s presence.

 

All this won’t be news to aficionados of silent film, who are well aware that the 1910s, and then the 1920s, burst with ingenious creativity. But everybody needs reminding, and the rare films I was lucky enough to study are just part of a huge corpus. The official classics by Chaplin and Griffith and others can be restored and reissued again and again, and we’re grateful. But if they’re the peaks of a landscape, there are plenty of luscious valleys that remain unexplored.

Problem is, most of the films from which my scenes come are incomplete, often missing entire reels. So they’ll probably never be screened much, or made available on DVD or streaming services. This is why archives remain indispensable to keeping the entirety of our film heritage, fragments and all, available to researchers. It’s also why I wrote this entry, to share with you my enjoyment of films you may never have a chance to see.

More broadly, scenes like these help us nuance our thinking about those films we do know well. For one thing, they indicate just how rich the creative energies of the 1910s were, and how many options were not embraced by…oh, let’s say for example D. W. Griffith.

For another thing, if these neglected works throw up willy-nilly an alcoholic’s hallucinations, an anxious wife’s dream, a plot based on amnesia, and a strategic replay of a crucial scene, we ought to think twice about claiming that such storytelling strategies are somehow unique to film noir, or the zeitgeist of the 1940s–or our movies today, which continue to use them.

American commercial cinema has drawn on particular themes, plot structures, formal designs, and narrational strategies again and again throughout the decades. My book Reinventing Hollywood floats the claim that silent-cinema narrative devices like flashbacks and subjective sequences went somewhat quiet during the 1930s but were brought back fortissimo in the 1940s, when sound techniques could raise them to a new level of intensity. And I’ve been at pains to argue over the years that we still encounter them.

Again, no surprise once we think about it. This is just history at work: the continuity of a powerful, proven storytelling tradition. Once we’ve learned to love darkness, we can’t give it up.


Again I must give my thanks to the John W. Kluge Center for providing me a long stay at the Library of Congress. The Moving Image Research Center was my host, and so I’m grateful to Mike Mashon, Greg Lukow, Karen Fishman, Dorinda Hartmann, Josie Walters-Johnston, Zoran Sinobad, and Rosemary Hanes. They’re doing their utmost to preserve our film heritage.

For information on the survival of US silent films, download David Pierce’s indispensable study, done for the Library of Congress. The information on Paramount is on p. 41.

Kristin’s article is “The International Exploration of Cinematic Expressivity,” in Film and the First World War, ed. Karel Dibbets and Bert Hogenkamp (Amsterdam University Press, 1995), 65-85. She discusses American lighting practices of the period in The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960 (Columbia University Press, 1985), 223-227. In the same volume in discussing film noir I consider the established practice of chiaroscuro for scenes involving crime and mystery (p. 77).

The most in-depth account of Paramount’s lighting styles is Lea Jacobs’ article “Belasco, DeMille and the Development of Lasky Lighting,” Film History 5, 4 (December 1993), 405-418. This is a good place to record my deep debt to Kristin, Lea, and Ben Brewster, for years of tutelage in what makes the 1910s so important.

There are many good books on film noir, but the most comprehensive reflection on the category’s many implications is James Naremore’s More Than Night: Film Noir and Its Contexts, 2d ed (University of California Press, 2008).

For more on 1910s film style, see this video lecture and this category of blog entries. I talk about other forays into the LoC collections here and here.

Lately, two video distributors have brought out less-known films from the period. There’s DeMille’s The Captive (1915) from Olive, and Irvin Willat’s Behind the Door (1919). The somewhat noirish frame below is from the latter. Flicker Alley, whose commitment to silent cinema from all countries has been extraordinary, deserves our thanks for making the San Francisco Silent Film Society’s restoration of this sensational, and sensationalistic, film available.

Beh Door 500

Behind the Door (1919).

April 18 2017

How Animation And VFX Production Is Thriving in Tenerife

Cartoon Brew speaks to animation companies on the island of Tenerife to learn how it is growing to become a major player in the international animation industry.

The post How Animation And VFX Production Is Thriving in Tenerife appeared first on Cartoon Brew.

On the Uncomfortable Nature of Documentaries: Art of the Real Festival 2017

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It’s not common that you find yourself having a moment of sudden comprehension and even illumination, almost like finding an inner peace: a sense of quiet and tranquil meditation that allows you to qualm your more restless moments regarding the value and importance of the things that you hold dear. In this case, I’m talking about cinema, and in particular, documentary cinema, the kind of which has always been the sole focus of the Art of the Real festival since 2014, and this year’s edition (April 20th - May 2nd) with over 25 screenings that combine short and feature length non-fiction films at New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center.
Along with new films from established directors like Jem Cohen and Michael Glawogger, this year features spotlights on Chinese documentary cinema, Latin American documentary hybrids (with a particular spot for Chilean cinema), the late Brazilian master director Andrea Tonacci and another latest works of Heinz Emigholz. It has something for everyone. It was then, glimpsing through the films that took part of this selection, that I found myself having a realization about what the core is of what we call documentary or non-fiction cinema, about those works that we can’t help but admire and remember throughout the years.
I won’t ponder too much on the old subject of how documentary can or can’t portray reality, or whatever reality is, or any of those discussions that some might still find interesting to have—I don’t, since the answer has already been solved: we don’t know anything and we will never know. But as it has been said, cinema started in the realm of the documentary with the Lumiéres shooting, among other daily events, the exit of their workers from their factory. Much has been written about this barely one-minute-long piece of history, but what I always get from it is two things: first, that these are the subordinates being watched by their boss, subjected to the gaze of this new artifact, they are the subjects under the microscope, there’s an inherent idea of power, as Foucault understood it, in this film.
And second of all, I always can feel, more than a 100 years later, how uncomfortable they all are. Maybe it’s related to the first thing that I’ve felt, but this is more related to their faces, the pace, the way that some avert they eyes once they see the camera. If there’s anything real in that film, it’s in the faces and the eyes of those workers who feel the gaze and react to it in whatever way it might be. Most of the films present in this year’s Art of the Real play and focus on that discomfort created when subjected to documentary cinema, both as a director and as a subject. It is those that make that uncomfortable nature of documentary apparent that are more valuable than others, as this kind of cinema is inherently disruptive: the director puts cinema in a position where it can invade privacies, homes and faces.
Another Year
That’s the kind of invasion that’s present in a project like Shengze Zhu’s Another Year, part of the festival’s Chinese spotlight, which puts on screen a working-class family having dinner over the course of an entire year. Comprised entirely of thirteen long-winded shots (one for each month plus an epilogue), which comprise the entirety of the three-hour runtime, the director puts the camera in a fixed position and doesn’t move it, as it lets the events of the dinner, and actions that surround it, develop with leisure to let all the members of the family have their say regarding what happened in their day. One would think that for a movie that’s so focused on the act of eating and the conversations that happen surrounding it, one would take notice of how the food changes according to the seasons, but it is in the same dishes displayed throughout the year (rice, congee for the kids, various types of vegetables, some unspecified meat) that the economic distress of this Chinese family is represented, as well as their evolution (or lack of) throughout the span of the film. We witness the growth of female teenager, whose voice always raises a bit when confronted with her parents (and whom they try to calm down, due to the presence of the camera above anything else,), an ailing grandmother who always seems sicker than before, and the constant changes in the job of the father. But we also see patterns, beyond the lack of variety in food: there’s also the way that the father sips beer or whatever liquid available directly from the bottle, or how the TV is always on some children’s or variety show that’s undistinguishable from the next, or the picky nature of the second youngest kid regarding food. In the end, the aim from the director is not to generalize the filmed situation to the entirety of China, but for the audience to be subjected to the private concerns and conversations of this family. This brings the level of voyeurism inherent to the film up a notch, but also it also gives Another Year a political edge that is less convoluted and more accessible through the experience of the common man beyond any class portrayal.
Casa Roshell
Now, that’s only a view into one family’s private quarrels and probable problems with a State that’s being a bit too controlling on what their people are doing. But Another Year doesn’t film a private life that one would hide from your family, which is precisely what is filmed in the short feature Casa Roshell, a non-fiction film shot in Mexico and directed by the Chilean Camila José Donoso (co-director of Naomi Campbel). Taking place entirely inside the Casa Roshell, a building where transvestites roam, sing, dance, fuck or just be comfortable with their sexual identity, avoiding the possibilities of violence that might appear outside. It’s a safe haven, though the place is open to male and female customers who can drink and sometimes pay to have sex with the women present, if they’re willing, as the main rule of the house is respect in every sense of the word: of the bodies, of their identities and their privacy (both of those who attend and those who change clothes when they enter). It’s a look at the privacy of these men that don outrageous wigs and put on make-up either to live a fantasy or to finally express who they really are, some of them transsexuals, some doing this with the express knowledge of their spouses, and all of them expect the privacy of their lives untouched. This, of course, goes against the idea of making the movie, but in the end it’s noticeable due to the speech pattern of the conversations “caught in the fly” that they are written and rehearsed, as if they were replications of conversations that really happened, but that they couldn’t be shown when the documentary investigation was underway. It’s a way into a lifestyle that we wouldn’t know about otherwise, unless you’d enter Casa Roshell, and in that way it works like the recreation of that uncomfortable feeling of being discovered doing something that no one else knows about.
The Dazzling Light of Sunset
The Dazzling Light of Sunset is a perfectly shot documentary for those who don’t want to see the camera being revealed—or don’t want that the fact revealed that a documentary is being filmed. As in an animal reportage, the humans of a Georgian town go on with their normal activities as if they weren’t being filmed. In a way, it makes sense that this is a film about a small local news channel that chronicles the daily events of the community—weddings, mayoral elections, climate, wandering animals, and beauty pageants—with a professionalism that is incredible considering the limited crew. But at the same time, the film demonstrates that no matter how small the media is, everything is biased, from the point where their camera stands, to what it shows and what leaves out (thanks to the film, we see what stands beyond the frame). And that is where the uncomfortable sensation settles in, where we see people that supposedly work towards a job that is so necessary, as journalism is, but end up being invaded by partisan biases as in any other profession—something particularly telling in a world where that vocation is being subjected to more scrutiny and disdain every day. It’s only in the scene at the end, almost like a post-credit sequence from a blockbuster, that the tension explodes and we see the subjects of the film address the camera for the first time, and it’s in their uncomfortable faces and phrases that the documentary might win or lose its adherents.
Ignacio Agüero in The Winds Know That I’m Coming Back
Art of the Real specially features two works by Chilean documentary filmmaker Ignacio Agüero, and I found myself incredibly surprised by how they each relate to the idea of how uncomfortable is to: (a) make a documentary; and (b) be a subject in a documentary. The Other Day is his 2012 film where Agüero asked people that knock on his door if he can visit them at their home. Made seemingly on the fly and exploring both personal and historical elements of Chile, the film captures those moments where this apparently absurd question hits the face of the mailman, a beggar, an errand boy and a young woman that’s looking for a job in film or TV. Unaware of the presence of the camera, they go through their speech when presented at the doorstep, and deflect the inquiry of the filmmaker. The awkward questions continue in his latest film, This is the Way I Like It II, sequel to a short documentary he made during the years of the Chilean dictatorship about the intentions and goals of the films various directors were making, but now he turns to a newer generation of filmmakers while they’re shooting their latest movies and asks them what’s “cinematographic” about what they’re doing. Most of the time the answers are pathetic and even embarrassing, but in a way that’s the least interesting element of the film, as Agüero keeps restarting it, re-editing it on the fly, searching for new instances to ask himself if what he’s doing is cinematographic enough. But the tension of documentary filmmaking could never be more accurately portrayed than in a fiction, as The Winds Know That I’m Coming Back is, directed by the wonderful José Luis Torres Leiva and starring Agüero as himself, a documentary director that travels to the islands of Chiloé and asks around, looking for people that can tell him about a story he wants to make. He doesn’t find the story, and while he hears multiple tales, he grows weary, and in the final scene where he’s talking with a kid that keeps on asking questions (in a movie that’s been filled with his own) Agüero stands up and demonstrably shows that he’s fed up with the documentary exercise of investigation. The tension in the tone of his voice speaks to the inherent displeasure with making non-fiction films.
The Modern Jungle
But let’s talk about the film that originated this thought about what I think is the most interesting characteristic of documentary filmmaking let’s discuss Charles Fairbanks and Saul Kak’s The Modern Jungle. It starts out as an average ethnographic documentary, those that we’ve seen in countless festivals around the world, a film that looks closely at a couple of Zoque people, an indigenous group in Mexico who still speak the dying language, and who are in the constant struggle to maintain their lands while battling their own non-race related problems, like their health. But the filmmakers find an interesting way to tackle the honest problem that comes along with the Zoque’s condition as a group that are constantly being looked down upon and thus are left without many opportunities: Fairbanks and Kak don’t leave out when their main subject, a man who has a hernia in his stomach, asks them money for his medical treatments. It is through that relation between subject and director, that sensation that there’s an abyss between them, the uncomfortable feeling that over a 100 years have gone by but the Lumiéres and their workers had the same gaze upon them as Kak and Fairbanks have on this man who only wants to get better. It is the feeling that he is diminished as a person when he begs on camera for some money in exchange of being filmed. There are many debates surrounding documentary filmmaking, and among them is the idea of paying the subjects, warning the people you see about the risks of what they’re doing, filming without consent… all of these are present here, but it’s the subject that brings them forward, because he knows that the directors need him to make their movie, that without him there’s little chance to find other Zoque people with the same problems that he does, so he takes advantage of that and knows how to ask in camera for what he needs. I found those sequences profoundly conflicting and above all, uncomfortable, because I could feel the discomfort both in the man and in those behind the camera, who honestly most of the time don’t know how to react. We see the money exchange, and it’s almost a relief: it’s as if it were the only way forward, which is sad. But it’s the world where we live, and it’s the films that we watch.
I can also recommend at Art of the Real these fiction films that cross into non-fiction either for their use of non-actors or their direct approach to filmmaking: the Bolivian film Dark Skull, the Rotterdam debut of José Luis Torres Leiva from 2008, The Sky, the Earth and the Rain (Ignacio Agüero has a bit role in this one), and Bang Bang, the 1971 Brazilian film from the late Andrea Tonacci, which has been mentioned by more than one friend as the best film ever made in that country. And they might be right.

The Greek Waste Land: Close-Up on Theo Angelopoulos

Close-Up is a column that spotlights films now playing on MUBI. Theo Angelopoulos's Ulysses' Gaze (1995) is showing April 27 - May 27 and Landscape in the Mist (1988) is showing April 28 - May 28, 2017 in the United States.
Landscape in the Mist
“We Greeks are dying people. We've completed our appointed cycle. Three thousand years among broken stones and statues, and now we are dying.”
Taxi driver, Ulysses’ Gaze
It seems that no essay on the films of Theodoros Angelopoulos can neglect to mention that, despite being recognized as one of cinema’s masters in Europe, he has repeatedly failed to cross over to the United States. A retrospective at the Museum of the Modern Art in 1990, a Grand Prix at Cannes Ulysses’ Gaze in 1995, a Palme d’Or for Eternity and a Day in 1998, and, most recently, a complete 35mm retrospective at the Museum of the Moving Image and Harvard Film Archive have done relatively little to boost his standing stateside.
The reasons for this are not novel. His films are often long—five of thirteen run between three and four hours—and always “slow”; shots last for several minutes, and the people in those shots are dwarfed by their environment—no surprise, given Angelopoulos’ tendency to eschew character psychology. Instead, people and location are used to illustrate connections among politics, culture and history with such specificity that it can be hard to follow for those without prior knowledge of Greece. His films also augment one another, with characters reappearing and dialogue recurring, taking on ironic new meanings in different scenarios, rewarding longtime fans and occasionally leaving newcomers behind. But what often gets lost in discussion of the complexity of Angelopoulos’ style is the specifics that make him unique among his European contemporaries as well as the variety to be found within it; with each film, Angelopoulos developed his technique and refined his politics as he examined his country, its place in the world, and the role of the arts and the individual in times of turmoil.
Landscape in the Mist
Landscape in the Mist (1988) is not without these “difficult” characteristics, but it is the optimal starting point for entering Angelopoulos’ world. It is, in some ways, a profoundly hopeful film, and it marks a reversal in Angelopoulos’ filmography in that politics and history are incorporated to complement a less recondite discourse about the arts, whereas earlier films did the opposite. Its narrative, too, about two children who leave home to find their father, is immensely moving. It unfolds almost like a fairytale, tracing the coming-of-age of the older Voula as she and her younger brother, Alexander, wander across the country and into smaller conflicts teeming with an allegorical importance. Cinematographer Giorgios Arvanitis and Angelopoulos utilize a muted color palette of dull earth and metallic tones, but they nonetheless find countless unforgettable images—the broken hand of a statue gliding across the sky, a single tree amid the mist, awestruck adults gazing at snow falling out of season—all aided by Eleni Karaindrou’s remarkable oboe-driven score, equal parts Arvo Pärt and Mendelssohn.
Greece, as Voula and Alexander traverse it, is deteriorating, marked by the recession of culture and a disinterested public. It is a nation literally without a place in the world—the film posits, somewhat ambiguously, an imaginary border between Greece and Germany, one of Angelopoulos’ more imaginative meditations on borders and nation. Less abstractly, the troupe from The Traveling Players (1975), Angelopoulos’ best-known work, reappears in Landscape in the Mist and in one scene recites, in a disorganized cacophony, monologues centered on history and politics from the earlier film, as if signaling that Greece’s own history is being lost. Indeed, when Voula, Alexander, and Orestes, the actor in whom Voula and Alexander find a friend, watch the statue hand being pulled from the ocean, it embodies a broken cultural link with Greece’s past. In an earlier scene, they watch a bride run into the otherwise empty streets only to be stopped and walked back in by the presumed groom. In the same shot, a vehicle chugs through the snow with a fallen horse in tow, horrifying Voula and Alexander. The vehicle stops, and the children kneel by the horse, talking to it, petting it, and watching as it slowly dies. In the background, a festive accordion tune crescendos and the wedding party begins to sing as they prance down the street, oblivious to the horrors unfolding beside them.
Yet so impassioned is Karaindrou’s score, so striking are Angelopoulos’ images, that even a viewer entirely unfamiliar with the director’s leftist politics and attitudes on Greek culture can still be swept away. Angelopoulos’ aesthetic has a unique effect in Landscape in the Mist. He lingers on the downtrodden horse or the falling snow or the floating hand well after its “point” has been made, breaking through the complex web of signification his films weave to find faith in the image itself. Political as each image might be in context, the length of each shot allows them to function as a purely lyrical one. The fairytale atmosphere and childlike astonishment casts a spell on viewer and character alike.
Faith in the power of the image is, in fact, integral to Landscape in the Mist’s more overt themes. Just as its defining ideas are about art rather than politics, its defining motif is not the floating hand of the statue, but a frame from a film the children find that depicts, ever so faintly, a tree in a misty landscape. It is an almost biblical image that promises happiness that is otherwise absent from the film. Voula and Alexander reach this tree only after being forced to disembark the train to Germany at the border. They come upon a river and begin to cross by boat in a night illuminated by a lone searchlight. As they paddle, an unseen guard yells “halt!” and fires one shot. The next we see of them is their outlines in a feint landscape resembling the frame from the film strip. Slowly the mist dissipates and Voula and Alexander run to embrace the tree. Have they arrived only in death? Or is it reality? Perhaps some imaginary dream space between the two? Angelopoulos leaves the question unanswered, reveling in the hope that film can offer for both character and viewer.
Ulysses’ Gaze
If Landscape is an elegy to a fading idea of Greek nationhood, Ulysses’ Gaze is a quest for Balkan solidarity. It is Angelopoulos’ first film shot mostly outside of Greece; Harvey Keitel’s character travels through Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia before finally making it to war-torn Sarajevo. Most of the dialogue is English, further internationalizing the film as different Balkan nationalities aim to communicate across borders. The film concerns itself explicitly with the work of a middle-aged, modernist filmmaker concerned with the form’s art and history. It begins with footage from films by the Manaki Brothers, the first filmmakers of the Balkan Peninsula, whose undeveloped early films pique the interest of the unnamed protagonist (played by Keitel), leading him to embark on a journey across the region to find them. The Manaki Brothers, he says, “weren't concerned with politics, racial questions, friends, or enemies. They were interested in people,” and perhaps their work can illustrate what Balkan solidarity would look like.
When we first meet Keitel, we learn that his most recent film, currently being shown in the town square, is causing something of a ruckus. “We've crossed the border, but here we still are. How many borders do we have to cross before we reach home?" we hear on the soundtrack. Those who have seen Angelopoulos’ previous film, the equally brilliant The Suspended Step of the Stork (1991), will recognize the dialogue. While such a use could easily be viewed as self-congratulatory, in context it reveals Angelopoulos’ commitment to political film. Angelopoulos was a lifelong critic of materialism, but he maintained belief in the power of the filmic medium to sway people—a four-hour runtime and avant-garde techniques didn’t stop The Traveling Players from breaking attendance records in Greece—and he never forsook that faith in the image.
As in The Traveling Players but unlike in Landscape in the Mist, a single shot might take the film across decades, as in an early scene where Keitel appears in the place of a dying Manaki Brother as a sailboat glides by, hinting at what’s to come. Footage from Manaki Brothers films break-up scenes early in Ulysses’ Gaze, as if commenting on the narrative, but they eventually integrate themselves more fully in the story. When Keitel reaches Romania, he is greeted by a woman in 1940s dress and sees Russian soldiers from World War II. Keitel goes home, and we learn that the woman is in fact his mother, and he is now living in a state that combines his own memory and Manaki Brothers films, which take him from 1945 to 1950 in another single continuous shot.
Ulysses’ Gaze
Ulysses’ Gaze
This technique is one of Angelopoulos’ trademarks and arguably the cornerstone of his aesthetic. In general, Angelopoulos distinguishes himself from his European counterparts through a steadfast commitment to his prolonged wide shots and moving camera. While countless contemporary European directors employ some combination of long takes, long shots, and moving cameras, none, except perhaps for Miklós Jancsó, employ all three together so unwaveringly (in this regard, as well as his interest in the limits of representation and the link between politics and art, his closest analogue is not a European, but Hou Hsiao-hsien). Characters remain the focus of the tracking shots of Ophüls and Renoir, Straub-Huillet’s camera tends to remain static, and even early Wim Wenders, often superficially linked with Angelopoulos, was far more forgiving in the length of his shots and generous with his close-ups and amount of dialogue. This meditative approach lent itself naturally to Angelopoulos’ more Marxist, group-oriented early films, in which individual agency is largely suppressed. By foregrounding landscape, the films signal a resignation to historical determinism and a constant affirmation of broader national and political implications as they play out in public spaces. By extension, the time-traveling tendency signals a form of stasis, a rebuff to the idea of things constantly getting better in its literal demonstration of how little has changed. Voyage to Cythera (1984) however, saw Angelopoulos acquire a renewed recognition of the individual (likely thanks in no small part to Karaindrou and screenwriter Tonino Guerra, whose previous scripts include numerous Antonioni and Fellini films) that would stick with him. In Ulysses’ Gaze, the entwining of the individual within the culture and history of the nations is essential, locating a shared Balkan history, only for it to be rendered amidst the siege of Sarajevo.
Angelopoulos illustrates this last point beautifully. One foggy morning in Sarajevo, Keitel wakes up and, instead of the sounds of mortar shells, he hears music. “Foggy days are festive days here,” explains Ivo (Erland Josephson), the archivist in possession of the undeveloped Manaki films, because the snipers cannot shoot. The music is a band of Serbs, Croats and Bosnians, Christians and Muslims alike, making music together. Wandering around the city, he notices singing, dancing and even an impromptu Romeo and Juliet performance. The music transforms into something from the 1950s, and Naomi, the latest of Keitel’s love interests, all played by Maia Morgernstern, transforms into Penelope, the first of them. As they dance, Ivo and his family come to join, but suddenly the sound of a jeep disrupts the harmony, and armed men drag off Naomi and the children. Off-screen, we hear gunshots piercing through the fog. We hear orders to dump the bodies of the children in the river, the splashes, the jeep again, and then nothing. Keitel sought the films of the Manaki Brothers as a shared origin, and he found it. But while the Manaki Brothers may not have been interested in politics, just in people, Angelopoulos, by contrast, is acutely interested in politics, and it is politics that shatter the hope of Balkan unity that film, music, theater, dance—the arts—provided, if only for a moment.
There is a paradox in these two films: Landscape in the Mist, the hopeful one depicting the recession of Greece’s cultural and historical identity, and Ulysses’ Gaze, the despairing call for pan-national fraternity.When Keitel’s cab-driver paraphrases the words of the great Greek poet George Sedaris, We Greeks are dying people. We've completed our appointed cycle. Three thousand years among broken stones and statues, and now we are dying,he mourns. But Angelopoulos sees opportunity, and his films help us to recognize it.
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