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August 18 2017

Three years after the Dragon

What is near and what is far? There are questions which may well not survive the art of cinema. How do things go about reaching us from the ends of the earth? And how are we to see them coming? Populations, news and drugs are a part of these things. They are at the heart of Year of the Dragon (1985) and of Michael Cimino’s films. Seeing again Year of the Dragon, on Canal Plus, three years on, makes us realise just how much this question will never be one for television. On television, what is far is always-already-there, an ‘old faithful’, with neither aura or fripperies. TV’s real exoticism is what happens ‘at home’, when by chance something happens which we were far from suspecting. With cinema, things went quite differently and it wasn’t unusual for great directors (Cimino is sometimes one) to take on journalists’ issues. Funny kinds of journalists, convinced that ‘everything is meshed’ and you only have to pull a thread to bring – why not? – the whole world to you. A world they would be crazy enough (paranoia is the word) to fit into one film. 
‘This goes back a long way’ is the leitmotiv of captain White, the furious hero disguised as Mickey Rourke in Year of the Dragon. This what? This everything. The activities of the Chinatown gangs, which go back to the Sino-American mafia, which goes back to the Hong Kong triads, which goes back several thousand years in China and to the historical presence of Chinese in the United States. Not to speak of the drugs arriving from Bangkok on a Polish ship, the Kazimierz Pulawski, a quirk of fate when you think that White also comes from a long way away – from Poland to be precise – with a painful detour via Vietnam. Resentment too goes a long way back, like anger which is better tasted cold and grudges which push back the limits of the world. 
We remember the ‘controversy’ that greeted the film on its release: was it racist or not? On TV you can see more clearly how much the racism is only a petty rationalisation of what Cimino still has it in him to film with the voraciousness and folly which any director worthy of the name can’t but possess, and which always exceeds his ideological limits. 
Year of the Dragon has to be seen as a (sometimes futile) exercise in style on this question of what’s close and what’s a long way away. This is the effect TV has on the film. What has to be seen is how Cimino tries everything before getting to the only confrontation which could tie up every loose end in the film. What has to be seen is the way Cimino builds up his scenes from big camera movements, within which there’s a proliferation of actions which aren’t simultaneous (as on TV), but parallel (as in the cinema). Once, the crucial question was how to get close to things. But where the zoom has replaced the actors’ movements with the movements of our eyes, Cimino thrusts Rourke like a living zoom into the thick of what suddenly shifts from ‘too far’ to ‘too near’, from jealousy to phobia. 
So, for Cimino, it’s also necessary that what’s far recedes as what is near gets closer*. About halfway through Year of the Dragon there are some extraordinary scenes. Criticised by all the other characters in the film, analysed and completely exposed, Stanley White collapses under the strain and becomes a wreck for several scenes. That’s when Cimino abandons him without warning and follows his enemy, the seductive Joey Tai, the young Chinese mafia leader, on a ‘business’ trip into the Thai (or Burmese?) forests. An incredible episode where we are compelled to ‘identify’ with this character, who is after all the villain of the film. Cimino succumbs to a very strange temptation, that of replacing his deadbeat lawman with his sworn enemy and granting him a nice piece of adventure movie. 
The result is that when we return to New York and the Polish choir at the funeral of White’s wife, we get something like a poignant illustration of the kind of movies Cimino’s unconscious dreams about. Movies with ever-wider concentric circles, where the threads connecting what’s close and what’s far are woven before our eyes, where the whole world communicates with itself. This was, incidentally, his stroke of genius in The Deer Hunter, moving without warning from Vietnam to Pennsylvania, and it’s this kind of thing that made Cimino (up until The Sicilian) so special a director. 
This is only a temptation though. Whether to enlarge the circles to infinity or to plunge into the target’s heart, where only one of the two men can survive? Year of the Dragon opts for the second solution, the one more in keeping with its stale moralism, but against the nature of Cimino’s talent. 

* The ultimate image of the double phobic movement: the vertical shot down the clock tower staircase in Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
First published in Libération on 14 October 1988. Reprinted in Devant la recrudescence des vols de sacs à main, Aléas, 1991.

Part of the Ghosts of permanence series.

Movie Poster of the Week: 1970s Disaster Movies

Whatever happened to the all-star-cast disaster movie? A staple of the box office charts for a good decade, disaster movies were to the 1970s what the superhero movie may be to the 2010s: a cash cow that was eventually milked dry. Starting today the Quad Cinema in New York is reviving the brand with a terrific series called “Disasterpieces, featuring eight classics of the genre alongside its greatest parody and two precursors.
Disaster movie posters are a genre unto themselves. For the most part they have three major elements: an eye-grabbing tagline—“91,000 People. 33 Exit Gates. One Sniper...”, “One Tiny Spark Becomes a Night of Blazing Suspense”, “Something hit us... the crew is dead... help us, please, please help us!”—a painted backdrop of catastrophe in medias res, and, most importantly, the grid of stars.
Disaster movies require a large cast because they require a high body count and a measure of who-will-make-it-and-who-won’t suspense that is much more effective if the who in question is a household name. In the early 70s there were enough golden age Hollywood stars looking for a gig in the new economy to fill a boat-load of blockbusters. All of which led to a new problem for studio graphic designers—how to represent such a large cast and give the disparate likes of Fred Astaire, Richard Chamberlain and O.J. Simpson equal billing—a problem which was solved in the easiest way possible: put their faces in a series of boxes at the bottom, or along the sides, of the poster. If you wanted to parody a 70s disaster movie today your go-to move would be that grid of faces. (Though notably the poster for Airplane! eschews such an easy target.)
I think I may have found the precursor to the trend: a poster for a little-known 1958 movie called Crash Landing. The one difference is that the grid denotes the character types and not the actors, but otherwise it's all there: Airport ’77 twenty years before its time.
Another precursor may have been the film that kick-started the trend in 1970: Airport. The poster for that film is nothing but a grid of smiling faces surrounding a list of names, nothing at all to tell what the film is about (beyond an airport) nor even what kind of film it is.
But with The Poseidon Adventure—to me the greatest of all disasterpieces—the brand finds its footing with its grid of faces, almost all of them in distress, above a scene of mayhem and the tagline “Who will survive...”
What follows are the rest of the best of the era’s lurid and exclamatory one sheets in all their panicky glory. All are in chronological order, leading up to the most recent film in the Quad’s series, 1980’s When Time Ran Out, which seems to be paving the way for the next great trend in action movie promotion: the Big Head poster.
Posters courtesy of Heritage Auctions. Disasterpieces runs through April 23.

August 17 2017

People Should Be Taken Care Of: Valérie Massadian Discusses "Milla"

Valérie Massadian. Photo by Locarno Festival | Marco Abram.
Six years ago, Valérie Massadian won the Opera Prima, the Locarno Festival’s first feature prize, for Nana, a great film that has since developed a small but deeply impassioned following. She returned to the festival this year with Milla and received another award, the Special Jury Prize in the Filmmakers of the Present competition. Simultaneously tender and brutal, in the film 17-year-old Milla (Séverine Jonckeere) runs away with Leo (Luc Chessel) before a series of incidents cause her to mature faster than nature had intended and make the uneasy transition from childhood to motherhood. 
We sat in a shady courtyard in Locarno to speak with Massadian about Milla and how it relates to, and expands upon, the project she undertook with Nana, as well as what it means to make films with and about young women. This transcription may give an indication of her demeanor, but what it fails to convey is the infectiousness of her warm, hearty laugh or the points where the tone of her voice cracked, where the depth of her emotions broke her tough exterior. 

NOTEBOOK: Can you tell me about the origin of this project and how it relates to Nana
VALERIE MASSADIAN: I know I have three films to do; I’ll probably make more, but I need to do these three. They’re about girls at in-between ages. The first was Nana, which is about a girl who is four years old, an age where the child is not domesticated yet, who is before desire, seduction and the need for love has arrived. I want to do another film, which I’ve written already, about a girl who is eleven or twelve, when you suddenly have a body and a sexuality that you don’t know what to do with. Then I wanted to do one about a teenage mother.  I did Nana, about the four-year-old, and then I started the casting for the next film, about the eleven-year-old. I met a lot of cool girls, great, erotic psychopaths, beautiful girls. But I realized that the reality was that I wanted to wait for Kelyna, the little girl in Nana, to grow up, as it would be more beautiful to do it with her later.
NOTEBOOK: She must be nine now?
MASSADIAN: She’s ten and a half. Voila, I waited. Anyway, once I decided to start the film about the young mother, I went up north to look for locations, because nature is important to me. I wanted something with the ocean. There is Brittany that I know really well. Brittany is harsh and Shakespearean. The rocks are harsh and mean. It can be too tragic, and I wanted something rounder. One day I was reading something. You know Trauner?
NOTEBOOK: No, I don’t.
MASSADIAN: [Alexandre] Trauner was a hero of mine. He was a Jewish-Hungarian set designer who managed to survive the Second World War. He worked with everybody, and did incredible things with nothing. I was looking him up, and I saw that he and this French poet, [Jacques] Prévert, spent the last 15 years of their lives in the same small village, Omonville-La-Petite, and their families were buried next to each other. I thought, these two motherfuckers have really good taste, so I went there to look, and it was exactly what I needed, so I decided to do it there. Also, the north of France is getting very poor, even if we are being told otherwise. The whole of France is bad, but the north is the worst. The north has nothing anymore, no industry, nothing. I went to Cherbourg because I had already shot Nana there, and I went to every women’s shelter in the area and eventually did casting. I met 30 young mothers, and chose her [Séverine Jonckeere].
NOTEBOOK: You knew it was her? She stood out amongst them all?
MASSADIAN: It was really clear. To me, she has a body that is everything but bourgeois. She is earthly, and though I hate to use the word, she has a proletarian body, a real body of a real person. You don’t see that so much. She’s both very pretty but not pretty. She was raised with too much milk. Also, because she has this body which is ‘in-between,’ she’s not a little girl but she retains some of those features.
NOTEBOOK: This seems very consciously a working class film, and I wanted to ask if it was your intention to make it this way—maybe even as a response to many other films that are not depicting this sort of situation?
MASSADIAN: It’s where I’m from, so I do what I know. Also, because I don’t work with actors, I work with people. So as with Kalyna in Nana, it is Séverine’s gestures, her mannerisms, her body, her way of talking that informs the character. Even if Séverine is not Milla, it’s important to me that the essence remains. I’m not doing social or political films, but it’s there, that’s where they belong. It’s not in your face and I don’t have anything to explain to you, but it’s there and either you know or you don’t. The people that know, know, and the others? Fuck them, basically. I don’t give a shit.
NOTEBOOK: Can you talk a little about how you worked with the (non) actors? What did Séverine bring to the character of Milla?
MASSADIAN: It was much easier in Nana, with Kelyna, because she was a kid, and she understood immediately what she could take. She had a territory that was hers, so it became a game between us, so when she played, she didn’t play like an actress would play, but she played with me. She wasn’t conscious in the way a seventeen-year-old girl is, thinking about how people are thinking about herself. A seventeen-year-old does, a lot, especially when you are from this sort of place where you are judged on an everyday basis. You’re judged without words, because she had bleached hair, because she had a kid, and so on. So, with a seventeen-year-old, it was different. I spent a lot of time with her, until I knew her. For instance, I knew she didn’t know how to tidy her room. Her house was a mess—I filmed it, but I didn’t show it, because I wanted to do something really caring and tender. But she’s a mess, so I knew that if I asked her to fold clothes or do the dishes, things she wasn’t used to, she would be concentrated. It’s like Bresson said, if you want something real, film someone opening and closing a window and you already have the person there in that act. The concentration on the process removes the awareness of the camera. The whole film is built on the editing table, I’m not following a script. I know what I’m looking for, and I’m the only one who knows; I don’t tell them. I just give them a situation, and from there, like in music, they deviate and do what they’re going to do. If you take each sequence, you can see two or three movements in each which you need to find.
NOTEBOOK: But you don’t tell them when it’s working, when you like it? You just let them go, and find out later? 
MASSADIAN: I never stop them. I think an idea doesn’t make a film, it never has and never will. Also, because I’m not cutting into the small sequences, I have time. I build a small theatre where they can play. Whatever idea I have is just going to be an idea, and when I feel that accidents occur, life takes over. Sometimes it’s tacky and sometimes it’s pure grace. 
NOTEBOOK: How do you develop the mood the tone of the film? In both Nana and Milla, I felt so much warmth and tenderness. How do you generate the mood that you want?
MASSADIAN: In the image or the construction?
NOTEBOOK: In the image, in the moment?
MASSADIAN: With Nana, it’s very strange, because the reaction of children is the exact opposite to adults. Where adults see drama, tension, or something sad or hard, with children it is something else. I did a screening in a huge cinema filled with children aged between four and nine, and a few adults from their schools, and at the end, it was like all of the children had done cocaine. An adult asked a question, and this nine-year-old was like, “Are you stupid? Did you see the film? We’re not fragile little things. Who talks at the end of the film? It’s Nana and she asks her grandfather if he’s alright, so we’re okay!”  In Milla, you have extremely dramatic events, but they aren’t dramatic. You carry on and survive. It’s hard to live the life these people live in reality, so if you are going to take them with you on this adventure, you better appreciate it. So, you have to protect them, which is where the tenderness emerges. In some sequences in Milla, you could mock her, it could be nasty. But there was no way it was going to be that way in my film. You can laugh, but the laughter is tender. People should be taken care of.
NOTEBOOK: I think there are too many mean films.
MASSADIAN: Me too. I think it’s a matter of position. Somebody wrote something about Nana at the beginning, saying it’s an incredible film made by a director who is not a director. The idea of directing suggests some kind of superiority. I’m not above the people in my films, I’m there to serve them. It’s easier to be above everyone, and I don’t care for that. If I wanted to do that, I could just turn the camera on myself. If I make a film, it has to be for them. Every time I finish an edit, I cry like an idiot because I’m a girl, and then I think, “I didn’t fuck them up. I didn’t betray them.” That’s the most important thing, I make the film for them and if they feel proud and loved, then it will find its harmony in the world. People won’t always see it. It’s all small, it’s all in the gestures, but it’s all there.
NOTEBOOK: You said before that you are focusing on young women for now. I wanted to ask why this is, and also whether there is something specific that want to achieve for the women in the films. or those viewing them?
MASSADIAN: To me, filming is dancing with the other person. I want to dance with the people I want to dance with, and I want to dance with all these girls that are unsure about themselves, who are super strong but super fragile. I was there, but I have strength and some power, and I want to give it back. When I make a film, I want them to come out of this experience having grown and gained assurance in themselves, and I did. That’s why I say when I finish the films I know I didn’t betray them, and I know I’ve given something back, not just in the film but beyond it. That’s important to me, maybe it’s some motherly bullshit, but I do, I want to give it back. It changed Séverine’s life, and Kelyna’s too, and their relations to themselves and their own family. This is the thing. I know the resistance, I know the violence, and I understand it. But I don’t understand it intellectually. I’m not a fucking intellectual; I’m a fucking animal. I’m proud of being an animal, because I’ve been told all my fucking life that this is something that is lesser—but it’s not lesser, it’s different. My relation to the world is different, and I’m sorry, but that’s physiological. Yes, when I am in front of the Pinturas Negras in Madrid I can’t breathe and I start crying. Don’t ask me why, that’s how it is. It’s not a lesser understanding than that of someone who can tell me about Goya for half an hour, with all the historical information. That, I can look up afterwards. At least I fucking felt it, and I felt it in a way that has no words. I work with the girls because I don’t need words, and they don’t need words with me. They recognize, Séverine knew. Her real life is a nightmare beyond anything in the film, so to trust anybody is incredibly complicated, but now she does. So, I gave something back.

Ghosts of permanence: from cinema to television

In the autumn of 1988, Serge Daney started to write about films on French television in a column called 'Ghosts of permanence' for the newspaper Libération. A large selection of these texts featured in Daney's fourth book Devant la recrudescence des vols de sacs à main. Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting translations of many of these texts, quite rapidly and in chronological order, attempting to match the rhythm of the column (every other day or so). Keep checking the blog. Here's the intro he wrote in Recrudescence.
Ghosts of permanence: from cinema to television 
To Jean-Claude Biette * 
This daily chronicle of ‘films on television’ came about from an irritation. For years, I’ve heard my old fellow cinephiles saying that a film on TV ‘is not the same thing’. Something, it was suggested, was irremediably lost. ‘Something’ which, in the event, nobody would venture to describe. To all of them it seemed certain that, on television, all that would be left of a film like The Ten Commandements would be a multi-coloured genocide, while India Song would be a triumph on the small screen. As if the passage from projection to broadcasting, from big to small screen, from chemical optics to electronic was solely about the opposition between intimacy and spectacle. 
I’ve always had the feeling it was nothing of the sort and that if, in the passage from the auditorium to the living room, there was, if not a metamorphosis, at least an anamorphosis, it would be a more subtle and less expected one. That in this passage of films under the X-rays of TV, something was lost (in terms of embodiment, seduction, of a certain captivating brilliance), but that something else at times was preserved, indeed gained (in terms of the nervous system, the skeleton, a certain head-on violence). In short, one had to take a closer look, and in person, with the certitude that, whatever the case, future generations will discover cinema with its loss
A daily column was the best tool of enquiry. For one thing because French television is – France oblige – very cinephile and day in day out there were all kinds of films to choose from – some of them, a rarity, in the original version. For another thing because, from rare late night cine-club items to obscure filler films and the eighties top grossers that could now be seen with hindsight, one could rediscover in this column the charm and flavour of old-school criticism, for whom a film, before being targeted or labelled, was only a film (one film one vote). Plunged into the trivial promiscuity of television, films ‘breathe’ better than on the lone pedestals of cinematheques. 
The other reason for this column was the somewhat disenchanted verdict I had reached by the end of my previous column (Le salaire du zappeur). My Lumière-Rossellini-Bazin-Godard hypothesis, which held out some hope of seeing on television the eventual continuation of one strand of cinema (the strand concerned with, not to say obsessed by, the concept of ‘information’), seemed to me more and more refuted by the way in which the power of the media was evolving. Looking at the mechanisms of run-of-the-mill French television ‘as a cinephile’, I had been struck by the triumph of parochial values and their enactment, to the detriment of what I saw more and more as the posthumous beauty of cinema: nothing less than a relation to the ‘world’. Television was not a continuation of cinema, for the good reason that it was not a machine for creating, nor even for producing, but instead for racketeering (at worst) or (at best) for showing
A film on television is neither cinema nor television, it’s a ‘reproduction’ or else an ‘information’ about a prior state in the coexistence between men and images, the images that nourish them and the images that give them life.
* The column 'Ghosts of permanence' was created in the early 80s by Daney's fellow film critic (and future filmmaker) Jean-Claude Biette.

Notes on the translation: For most of the texts, I've re-worked the translations from the manuscript Cinema in transit, an unpublished English-language anthology which I got from Steve Erickson. In practice, this has meant correcting typos, adjusting the style and tackling mistranslations (there were quite a few) which I've checked against the original text. I've also translated some other texts from scratch with the invaluable help of Otis Wheeler.

Cinema Rediscovered 2017. Recycled/Renewed: Archival footage in "Dawson City: Frozen Time" and "Becoming Cary Grant"

Barry Levitt was a participant on this year's inaugural Film Critics Day workshop at the Cinema Rediscovered film festival in Bristol and Clevedon in the U.K. Cinema Rediscovered is a celebration of the finest new digital restorations, contemporary classics and film print rarities from across the globe. 15 early career and aspiring film critics took part in a full day workshop looking at the state of things for film criticism in the U.K. and beyond. They each produced a written or visual piece of criticism around the films in the program. Further examples of their work, as well as information about the program, can be found on the Cinema Rediscovered Blog .
Dawson City: Frozen Time
At the bottom of a derelict swimming pool in Dawson City, deep in the Yukon territory of north-west Canada, lay one of the greatest discoveries in film history, waiting to be found. For nearly fifty years some 500 films lay dormant under the permafrost. In 1978, the films were discovered, with the brutal Yukon winters providing miraculous protection for the nitrate film reels, filled with stories forgotten, thought to be lost forever.
It is this remarkable discovery that informs Bill Morrison’s latest feature, Dawson City: Frozen Time (2016). Morrison is no stranger to using archive footage to tell his stories, as the critically acclaimed Decasia (2002) attests. For Dawson City, Morrison takes this concept to a new level, using the very footage found under the permafrost to illustrate the story of its discovery. Morrison uses a variety of archival materials including newspaper clippings and photographic stills to drive the narrative forwards but, the silent film clips are the film’s raison d'être. For Morrison, it is the very role of discovery that informs the use of his archive footage. It feels as if the footage commands the narrative, guiding the story into strange, unbelievable (yet entirely factual) and fascinating places.
Archival footage, positioned as an opportunity for new discoveries, is increasingly evident in the film’s decision to explore multiple tangents; the film tells a much larger story than the discovery of the lost film reels. It uses the footage to springboard into discussion around Dawson City’s history before, during and after the gold rush, as well as of the filmmaking process, even stretching its narrative to include the romantic side-plot of two passionate individuals who discovered the footage. Dawson City is a deliciously complex film—masterfully weaving archival footage into a new narrative to bring a tremendous story to light.
In addition to using the archive footage to rediscover histories, Morrison’s employment of the footage also stems from his own personal memories. This can be attributed to the film’s inclusion of footage of the baseball World Series of 1919, which was also discovered in Dawson City. Morrison, as revealed in an interview with Filmmaker magazine, made the White Sox one of his first searches when accessing the archives. As a baseball fan growing up in Chicago, Morrison uses the footage to explore his own personal interests, and a TV-interview with Morrison regarding the World Series footage opens the film. While the footage does tie-in with overarching themes the film presents, there is no tangible relationship to the story of Dawson City, therefore highlighting Morrison’s use of archival footage to engage his own personal memories and interests.
The role of discovery in Dawson City is densely layered, as evidenced by a subplot within the narrative. It involves the remarkable story of photographer Eric Heggs, who travelled to the Yukon at the height of the gold rush. Heggs used 200 glass-plate negatives to insulate his photography studio. The 19th century photographs remained for decades before their discovery in the 1950s. What is fascinating here is that Morrison uses Heggs’ photographs as archival material in the film’s narrative, where the images illustrate the very narrative they are the subject of. The use of Heggs’ images is just one of the many delightful surprises found within the exhaustive story of Dawson City.
The film explores several personal narratives to illustrate the illustrious history of the small town. The cast of characters is varied; silent film director William Desmond Taylor, Sid Graumann (builder of the famed Graumann’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles), and President Donald Trump’s grandfather, Frederick, all spent time in Dawson City during the gold rush. These personalities, explored through found footage, further emphasise Morrison’s ability to create personal histories through archival images.
The film is effectively silent (apart from a few modern clips with synchronized sound) and the film has no audible narration. Instead, the narrative is relayed through the images themselves, with superimposed passages of text, akin to title cards of the silent era. In a sense, Morrison recreates the sensory experience of watching a silent film, placing viewers into the very era that the film evokes. For the unfamiliar with silent film, Dawson City may be a daunting experience, but the decision to have no audible narration is effective, as it subconsciously brings the viewer deeper into the film’s universe, highlighting a Dawson City that plays itself.
Becoming Cary Grant
While Dawson City: Frozen Time is a sprawling epic that looks at a wide range of personalities, Mark Kidel’s latest documentary focuses on one Archibald Leach, better known as actor Cary Grant. While on the surface, Dawson City and Kidel’s Becoming Cary Grant (2017) appear to have little in common, both films use archival footage with discerning affect: to offer new discoveries and evoke personal histories.
Kidel uses a wide range of materials to tell Cary Grant’s story, ranging from his unpublished autobiography, recreations, clips from his filmography, talking heads of experts on Grant’s life, as well as personal accounts of friends and family. What gives the film a unique flavor is the use of film shot by Grant himself, filmed in the late 30s and early 40s. The footage, shot in 16mm color, has an almost psychedelic, washed-out effect that lends the film a dreamlike quality. Kidel expertly matches Grant’s own footage with voice-over narration of his therapy treatments, in which he took LSD upwards of 100 times. It is an evocative decision, and you can easily imagine a different documentarian providing straightforward commentary over the images Grant filmed. Instead, Kidel uses the footage as an avenue to analyze Grant’s psyche. As Kidel explains:
[T]he people need not be identified, but used to evoke his inner world and the images thrown up by his memory and his unconscious…no-one points a camera—especially when it is used as a kind of note taking or journal-making exercise – without revealing unconscious thoughts and desires.
The medium of film is a perfect conduit for memories, with any one image evoking an endless array of relations to a viewer’s own world. In this sense, Becoming Cary Grant is an introspective experience. Instead of following convention, using a person’s story to look outward and explore wider themes, the film looks deeper into Cary Grant’s personal world, using his own words (narrated by Jonathan Pryce) and images.
Key reoccurring motifs from the archive footage play a crucial role in understanding Cary Grant: first, there are the droves of women he filmed, often in bathing suits, swimming or relaxing on beaches—there is something about these women, as they look at the camera (and therefore, at Grant himself), they are clearly enamored, and enjoy being in his company – then there are the repeated images of boats. As Kidel explains, it were “as if the boats made him dream of escaping Bristol as a child, remained…a symbol of the possibility of reinventing oneself on distant shores.” Indeed, this connects with another main component of the film, the enigmatic life of Grant.
Moving to America at a young age through vaudeville theatre, Grant wound up in Hollywood, and eventually became an American citizen. The recurring images of boats, coming and leaving, destination unknown, speak highly to Grant’s endless sense of searching for happiness—something which LSD therapy helped him come to terms with. There is a sense, throughout the film, that Grant is always performing, and it is the archival footage used that gives us access to the “real” Cary Grant, more than any one interview could ever hope to achieve.
The film further devotes itself to Grant’s Hollywood persona as a suave, sophisticated gentleman. Though audiences can see the persona through Grant’s film roles and in interviews with those who knew him, there is a far more palpable sense of Grant’s personality in his home videos. Gone is the glitz and glamour of the cinema, stripped bare, without a filter. Through the reactions of the women he filmed and the ebb and flow of the vast expanses of water separating Hollywood (Grant) from Bristol (Leach), Kidel offers remarkable insight into the man Grant really was.
For Dawson City, Morrison only looked at around 124 of the 500-plus reels of film, and Kidel used considerably less than the more than three hours of material he pored over from Grant’s personal archive. Thus, archive footage is used as a tremendous tool in the quest to uncover the secrets of the past and to reveal personal histories, one thought lost. Through Morrison and Kidel, the histories of a small town and a Hollywood megastar can be experienced in unimaginable ways. However, with hours of footage left on the cutting-room floor, archive footage still maintains its elusive nature—who knows just how many stories still wait to be discovered?

1. Macaulay, Scott. "Explosive Memories: Five Questions for Dawson City: Frozen Time Director Bill Morrison." Filmmaker Magazine, 9 June 2017.
2. Mark Kidel interview, Media Kit.

Cinema Rediscovered 2017. "The Entity" (or To Be A Woman Is To Be Born In A Venus Fly Trap)

Kofo Owokoniran was a participant on this year's inaugural Film Critics Day workshop at the Cinema Rediscovered film festival in Bristol and Clevedon in the U.K. Cinema Rediscovered is a celebration of the finest new digital restorations, contemporary classics and film print rarities from across the globe. 15 early career and aspiring film critics took part in a full day workshop looking at the state of things for film criticism in the U.K. and beyond. They each produced a written or visual piece of criticism around the films in the program. Further examples of their work, as well as information about the program, can be found on the Cinema Rediscovered Blog .
The Entity
Having seen Sidney J. Furie’s entry into the 80s lexicon of horror, for the first time at the Cinema Rediscovered film festival in Bristol, it occurs to me that The Entity (1982) could be considered timeless. Not for the content of the film itself; it’s a barely competent film, absurd and surreal in the worst sense of those words. Not for the story, either, which tries and fails to weave a cursory commentary on the evils of patriarchy into a confusing and gangrenous narrative. Rather, I consider it timeless because of the theoretical implications within the film, and because of the story that lies festering beneath. An accidentally discovered truth is the real message of the movie: that to be a woman in this world is to be born into a trap of constant investigation and surveillance.
The Entity is the story of Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey), a mother of three who lives a fairly innocuous life before, suddenly and without warning, she is violently attacked and raped by an invisible entity. Watching the film, we spend almost all our time with Carla. There is an intimacy to the film that is bordering on voyeuristic, and is almost definitely a form of surveillance. Barbara Hershey’s face dominates the frame throughout the film. From the moment she is first attacked up until the very end of the film, she is simultaneously seeking privacy and validation.
We follow Carla into her bedroom. We hover over her shoulder as she says goodnight to her children and watch as she shifts in her bed in terror; through closed doors and countless mirrors and, at one point, through an actual surveillance camera. Before her attack, we knew nothing of this woman. However, since the arrival of the entity (and it doesn’t matter what the entity is outside of what it represents) we know her more intimately than her lover does. Barbara Hershey is a perfect fit for this role. Her face is angular and hollow, with restless, narrow eyes. However, given how well we come to know Carla, it is often difficult to discern whether the suspicion she wears on her face belongs to the character or to the demanding and unwarranted voyeurism the actress herself is subject to. Sidney J. Furie’s surveillance of Carla/Hershey is constant; the camera follows her from room to room. Into the bath, it traces her eyes. There is no relief for her. This is an extreme response to the limited roles (and physical space) that were (and remain) available for women in film. In place of a treatment of this, there is a ham-fisted subversion: Carla takes up the film. She is afforded the most space and time, but only to heighten the unrelenting surveillance she is under.
In fact, Sidney J. Furie seems just as culpable as any man that he is condemning in his weak critique of patriarchy. Especially, when we consider the fact that none of this excessive surveillance of Carla seems to serve a particular narrative purpose, that the director simply feels like exploring her threshold of pain, and observing it like a peripheral vulture. There is a brazen sense of entitlement to put her under such stress, the story notwithstanding. This is further supported by the bizarre and surreal paranormal direction the story takes, where Carla’s house is faithfully reconstructed at a university, with the addition of several cameras, and the entity takes on a corporeal form and is ‘captured,’ to prove to her psychiatrist and everyone present that she was indeed telling the truth.
By sacrificing ambiguity, a staple of effective horror storytelling, for explicitness, Furie shows that not only does he fail to understand the genre he’s working in, but he also doesn’t understand his own story. I call his critique of patriarchy weak because, despite a plethora of frustrating, heart-breaking and insane interactions with men throughout the film, Furie presents it all through the frame of an ultimately physical supernatural entity, trailing an excuse for the men in the film’s wake. The psychologist is adamant in his disbelief of her, yes, even going as far as to diagnose it as a perverted Oedipal desire Carla harbours for her own son. But who among you, Furie asks, would believe anyone if they come to you claiming the supernatural? Her de facto fiancé leaves her after witnessing an attack from the entity for himself. But, who among you, Furie posits, could deal with a woman being haunted by a supernatural rapist? And, ultimately, by descending into the surreal and providing an outlet for these questions, Furie reveals the patriarchal nature of his own film. By making the entity an actuality, Furie stubbornly provides answers for questions that didn’t have answers then and still don’t, now.
What the entity is does not matter. Whether it exists or not does not matter. Had the entity remained invisible, what then is the excuse for the dismissal and betrayal of Carla by various men in her life that occurs throughout the film? Rather than absolve them of blame through a convoluted third act, why not examine the horror of having other people’s perception and projections thrust upon you with no opportunity for an escape, to even the privacy of your own home? Life in such an instance can only be a surreal experience, and Furie devalues these questions with his foray into the paranormal, exposing the inherent patriarchy of his own storytelling in the process.
I think of The Entity as timeless, now, because while the filmmaking and incidental quirks of the film may be emblematic of its time, for a modern audience it only serves to skewer any argument that can be made for progress since then. The surveillance experienced by Carla is now commonplace, a daily reality for women everywhere. And the lower down the rung you find yourself; as a woman, as a black woman, as a trans black woman, the more susceptible you are to the dangers of this surveillance, and the more intimate you are with the truth of the futility of this life, to be born into this trap with effectively no escape except, unlikely: the amassing of an obscene amount of wealth in a short time, or more likely: death.

Cinema Rediscovered 2017. 50 Years after "La chinoise", What Can Be Said of the Radical Left?

Kirsty Asher was a participant on this year's inaugural Film Critics Day workshop at the Cinema Rediscovered film festival in Bristol and Clevedon in the U.K. Cinema Rediscovered is a celebration of the finest new digital restorations, contemporary classics and film print rarities from across the globe. 15 early career and aspiring film critics took part in a full day workshop looking at the state of things for film criticism in the U.K. and beyond. They each produced a written or visual piece of criticism around the films in the program. Further examples of their work, as well as information about the program, can be found on the Cinema Rediscovered Blog.
La chinoise
There is a moment in La chinoise where my dusty A-level French pricked up its ears: it was to the sound of a young student and co-ringleader of a commune of revolutionaries, Guillaume, using the passé simple tense in a speech to his fellow comrades. It was a tense we were told was used in literary fiction and—in speech—to give an air of sophistication and intellect. An intriguing choice of oration for a group who aim to incite revolution among the proletariat. This is a fallacy I’ve recognized in the radical Left before, in fact it reminds me of the well-meaning students in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables: middle class boys, meeting over wine in a cafe to discuss politics and how the poor and working class can unite. Talking among themselves, always, and yet not fully connecting with those they plan to stand in solidarity with.
But then, that is what, at times, makes this film such a colorful piece of absurdism. It is like a pop-art punch of images that surmises the ethos of the cultured: intellects of the West in the late 1960s; young, bright, attractive students furiously reading, debating and discussing how to make the world a better place. In a way, these students, so lost in the sincerity of their cause, are something to marvel at and, yet, I’m less inclined to be nostalgic when observing the state of the radical Left now, fifty years on.
Those on the Right have accused the modern Left of being Frankenstein to the monsters of Trump and Brexit. Western philosopher Slavoj Žižek, in November last year, discussed these issues on The Big Think in a video titled How Political Correctness Actually Elected Donald Trump. In it, he singles out “the liberal, centrist mainstream” as having failed. In many ways, this is, depressingly, true. Sound observations as in Adam Curtis’ documentary-epic HyperNormalisation (2016) further demonstrate how the internet and algorithms have pushed us further into cosy social bubbles.
I can’t help but see traces of this in how these five students stay confined, mostly to their apartment. With doors and windows scrappily painted in primary colours, it suggests an environment of infantilisation, a refusal to accept the reality of the rigid political structures in their country, and an attempted simplification of that which cannot be simplified. It is reminiscent of that which the modern Alt-Right takes issue with in the modern cultural Left—odious ‘SJWs’ (Social Justice Warriors: a pejorative term for those harboring socially progressive views including feminism, civil rights, multiculturalism and identity politics) or ‘Snowflakes’ (another pejorative term used to describe the younger generation who supposedly have an inflated sense of uniqueness and are easily offended as a result), who avidly discuss their burgeoning identity politics in safe spaces online, convincing themselves that through online dialectic—among themselves—they will further the theories’ credibility and presence in wider society. And, there is evidence, now, of a Left that toes the line of what used to be called ‘fascism’; news stories of university campuses on lockdown and calls for moderate, progressive professors to be fired for disagreeing with new Left ideas are similar to the way that Henri is ejected from the group when his views change. There is also Veronique, played by Anne Wiazemsky, who is confronted by the danger of her own extremism by a philosopher (Wiazemsky’s real-life university lecturer), as she travels to assassinate the Soviet Minister of Culture. He characterises her ideas beautifully with the line, “You know the current situation is awful and you’re impatient to end it.” Such is the urgency of youth, the need for justice and change to come into effect with immediacy. Although the times they have a-changed and the political priorities with it, this element of youth activism persists.
The film, and the novel from which it was based, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed (1872), are a reminder that extremism, on either end of the political horseshoe, is destined to collapse on itself or descend into terrorist tactics, and the way Jean-Luc Godard explores this is exciting and zany, rooted all the way through by his singular and incomparable writing style. A half century after its release, it’s pertinent to reflect on a film made in a time as politically turbulent as our current predicament, and think on how the modern Left will be perceived culturally and cinematically another fifty years from now.

Camilo Restrepo’s Impressions

Camilo Restrepo's Impression of a War (2015) is playing August 10 - September 8, 2017 on MUBI in many countries around the world as part of the series Direct from Locarno.
Like Shadows Growing as the Sun Goes Down
The characters in Camilo Restrepo’s films make art in the face of death. They are dancers, jugglers, tattoo artists, painters, and singers who collectively rise to exorcise hardships. Their journeys are chronicled in lucid, elliptical fashion by an artist whose handheld pursuits of people endow them with explosive and ethereal impressions of force and power.
Restrepo was born in 1975 in Colombia, where he lived until a scholarship took him to Europe to study painting. His first three films were shot in his birth country on Super 8 and 16mm and additionally utilized digital archival materials to tell parts of the nation’s recent past in relation to its present time; his two subsequent films were both shot in France as direct registers of people on 16mm. The works range in length from 10 minutes to 27, resulting in a roughly 80-minute-long filmography—realized in its entirety during the past decade—that has established Restrepo as one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers.
Tropic Pocket
Tropic Pocket (2011) and Like Shadows Growing as the Sun Goes Down (2014) offer mixtures of black-and-white and color portraits of young Colombians that seem to exist out of time. The first film quietly provides a series of lyrical and fantastical registers of residents in a tropical zone of conflict who spend their days dancing and performing in Nature while onscreen text provides a possible history of the place. The second film locates itself among urban street artists who showcase themselves before passing cars in locations with names such as General Bolivar Avenue, while also occasionally dislocating to show work done on tires and other car parts throughout the city of Medellín.
Impression of a War
Restrepo’s third film, which is streaming on MUBI until September 8th, is an opus called Impression of a War (2015). The film seeks to catalogue registers of Colombia’s 70-year-long period of internal armed conflict through an ongoing dialogue between a calmly essayistic narrator’s voice and screen-impressed appearances of the artworks themselves. Batches of defective illustrated newspapers, tattoos on former prisoners’ bodies etched with homemade machines, performances of punk songs, and graffiti drawn on the walls of a hotel formerly used for abduction and torture join together on 16mm film stock whose precarious essence comes across with rips and fragmentations intact.
The two films that Restrepo has made following Impression are also murky 16mm works in which materiality spotlights mortality. Both films are allegorical performance-based works, made in collaboration with fellow émigrés to France, about encounters between life and the afterlife that call on film’s innate ability to revive the deceased.
La Bouche
In Cilaos (2016), Restrepo’s most celebrated film to date, a young woman (played by Réunion-born singer Christine Salem) fulfills a promise to her dead mother to find her long-absent father, a womanizing alcoholic named “La Bouche” (“The Mouth”); she eventually learns that he, too, has died, and her pursuit of him into the underworld leads to a cathartic jam session between her and other musicians touched by death. La Bouche (2017) picks up with a group of singers and dancers beseeching the aging title character (Guinean percussionist Mohamed Bangoura, a.k.a. “Diable Rouge”) to respond to his daughter’s murder, which the largely silent and impassive man finally does through a volcanic drum solo. The diptych’s narratives unfold primarily within closed quarters and focus in intimate fashion on the faces and bodies of their performers; the roaming and eclectic approaches taken by Restrepo’s earlier Colombia-set trio, which gather diverse materials to gesture towards vital universes of imagination, harmonize with this pair of firmly concentrated works that transmit forceful musical expressions with the sensation of gesturing the same way.
Over the past three years, Restrepo’s films have won prizes at Locarno (among many other festivals) and screened in the Directors’ Fortnight section of Cannes. Even so—and thanks in part to frequent considerations of shorter films as being less important than their 60-minute-plus counterparts—his work has not yet received the consistent auteurist attention that it deserves. Restrepo’s films, made virtually by hand, are amateur in the most primitive and useful sense of the term: They pulse with artisanal passion for the subjects that they record.
The news of Restrepo’s recent turn towards preparing his first feature-length work made this moment seem an especially adequate one to discuss his artistic corpus up to now. What follows is a monologue delivered by someone in constant dialogue with a world; an exchange of e-mails with the self-effacing filmmaker suggested this sculpted form for an interview that might prove appropriate to the shapes of his films.

CAMILO RESTREPO: I came to filmmaking late in life, after having rid myself of artistic ambition.
I grew up in the city of Medellín during its most violent period. My studies were in plastic arts, with a particular focus in painting. Soon after leaving university, I passed through a period of artistic frustration, a time of constant uncertainty over what my future would be that accompanied the financial difficulties in which I lived. Over time, I decided to abandon making art and instead obtain purely technical work in a gallery.   
Years after making this decision, I felt that there was still something left for me to try. I still held onto the intuition that I could make a work of art. I told myself that if I did not try at least once more, then I would be doomed to live forever with frustration.  
After having this reflection, I bought a Super 8 camera, six rolls of black-and-white film, and one color roll. My wife and constant collaborator Sophie Zuber and I took a journey together into an isolated region of Colombia to shoot. Tropic Pocket combines the little material that we filmed ourselves along with audiovisual records that we found of the place. The film, in fact, seeks the first image of a place, one sometimes known as the Darién Gap, a small piece of the Colombian jungle on the border with Panama.  
The film is a kind of cartography of the jungle laid out through four different image sources recorded over 60 years, including my own footage. It is a space mediated by gazes, each one imposing a single point of view. The images were made by men following different motives and interests: Missionaries, soldiers, traffickers, each one trying to justify and spread knowledge of his actions. They all doubtlessly coincide in hiding the violence through which he who believes himself committed to a just cause ends up subjecting others.
When I watched these images made by others, I felt that it was fruitless to organize a tension beyond the games between different forces that were already operating in the Darién Gap. The engine behind the film thus became to propose an imaginary map of the zone that might liberate the space from points imposed by private interests upon it.  
I added my own images to the found footage, forming the testament of a tourist with a handheld camera. With the Super 8 camera, I sensed that I was capable of greatly concentrating my gaze. I felt that if I wanted to make another film, then I should make it in this way—with the concentration that celluloid allowed me, with the tension of knowing that I would have only a few minutes to work and that I would have to work a bit blindly, without knowing what the processed material would finally reveal.
I therefore threw myself into another short, and then another and another and another, always in tandem with my gallery work, which I continue to maintain. 
Like Shadows Growing as the Sun Goes Down presents Medellín from the point of view of some of its marginal inhabitants: Jugglers at traffic lights. The point of departure for the film consisted of bringing together gestures—all circular, all cyclical—performed by people who go to work when cars cease at traffic lights reaching the end of their service lives. It is a film about those who do not advance, a work in which delay and repetition impose themselves upon speed, and one in which the cars are always sensed somewhere out of sight.  
The film’s title comes from a celebrated tribute to Simón Bolívar: “Over the centuries, your glory will grow like shadows growing as the sun goes down.” The present moment of the film’s characters is tied to Medellín’s symbolic tissue, and the journey through its physical strata is also a journey through historical strata, with streets marked by the names of heroes and great battles associated with the Independence. As I explored the streets with the jugglers, I grew aware of our displacement within a vast space amplified by time, the terrain of a stratified society in which past and present never stopped meeting.  
During the time that I was making the film, I perceived another opposition coming into view, one between manual and mechanical work. This resonated with my practice as a filmmaker now working on 16mm, thanks to an association of independent filmmakers in Paris called L’Abominable whose ranks I had joined. I found in the filmmakers of L’Abominable (with my mentors being Stefano Canapa, Guillaume Mazloum, and Nicolas Rey) an enormous urge for independence from the ordinances dictating the making of industrial cinema. We were able to work with celluloid, in fact, precisely because most of the industry had left the terrain free in favor of digital technology. The prices of film stock and processors fell, projectors could be found in theater waste bins, and a number of resources were suddenly within our reach.
I learned how to develop film stock, better manage a camera, and make screening prints. All of this manual and technical work recalls my formation in painting. I myself develop my films. I am the only one responsible for any technical problem that emerges. If the negative rips, or the image comes out too dark, or the chemical balance comes out incorrectly, then I must assume the error. Of course, I am not alone when I develop—my friends from L’Abominable are around in case any problem arises. A great solidarity emerges within systems of fragile production.  
Although I was born in Colombia, for the past two decades I have lived in France. My distance from Colombia allowed me to believe that I could appreciate the country as a field of study. Impression of a War, in an intuitive way, emerged from a series of encounters that helped me find a possible reading of the armed conflict that has mined the nation. 
For over twenty-five years I have bought batches of defective newspapers, initially to paint over them. I knew that they were more than just wastepaper, but it still took me years to discover that they were message and not only medium. I understood this for the first time when I saw a tattoo marked on the body of an ex-prisoner. The shock that I sensed between these two means, of being simultaneously source and information, inspired all that came afterwards, during vacations taken to Colombia. 
Impression of a War explores three classical genres associated with painting: Portrait, landscape, and still life. Each has confirmed its superiority over the others at different points in history with its capacity to represent symbolic actors and sites of power. The film could be seen as a portrait of a group of extreme complexity. A subjective gaze that I call an impression tries to organize and order the group by its interactions within an uncertain space that we call a country. 
The film’s landscape is filled with vectors, as in a field of war whose actors involve themselves in flawed representations inside a world of deceptive appearances. Their world is camouflaged for war, camouflaged in the quotidian.  
Still life has only recently acquired nobility and left behind its status as a minor genre, an evolution that coincided with the reorganization of a political order freeing itself from monarchies. The genre is therefore one of modernity’s most privileged with its potential to claim any single object or person as worthy of an attentive gaze. Impression of a War takes its time in collecting images of “anythings.”
The film allowed me to conclude a series of reflections on Colombia. Cilaos was my first non-Colombian work. I believed that it could be the film to transmute my rootlessness into a bonding with more profound roots. The very theme of the film explores the ambiguous space between gaining and losing one’s identity, and between gaining and losing it voluntarily or through a miscarriage of justice.  
Cilaos began as a work realized with the musician Arthur Gillette. It was he who presented me to the film’s protagonist, Christine Salem, who in turn revealed the mystical territory that impregnates the film’s atmosphere. She offers an immaterial mystical force while representing a living Death, highly material and highly spiritual, as it could be conceived on the island of Reunión as well as throughout Africa and South America. She holds the capacity to enter into a trance state and communicate with the ancestors during ceremonies such as the servis kabaré; the transcendental search undertaken by her character is, in reality, not very far from her.
La Bouche, set in Guinea, is the mirror film to Cilaos. The roles change: The strong becomes weak, who abandons is abandoned. I was not looking for its story, which came from the mouth of my neighbor Ella Bangoura. He beseeched me to film a tribute to the tragedy of his sister, a process that pointed me in a direction inversely reflective of Cilaos, as if the first film’s fiction had been rapidly caught up in the second’s reality.  
But what took place beyond this anecdote? I wasn’t interested for reasons of form. In La Bouche, Cilaos, and Impression of a War, the characters are confronted with what they consider to be a loss, a misfortune, an injustice. They physically react, whether through waking the dead, through hitting and beating, through grabbing skin… Their presence is what matters most, and from this presence I wish to seize the traces that they might leave, even if blurred or trembling or poorly filmed. During the developing of Impression of a War, for instance, the film reel tore in precisely the segment presenting the ex-prisoner’s tattoos. The work itself became tattooed with a mark that appears quite clearly in the image: A blurred line dividing the frame into two halves. 
Cilaos and La Bouche are both tied to darkness, which is a method not only of being light, but also of being space and time. The lack of realistic definition of space in the films removes specific references to past and present and allows for their narratives to advance and retreat through time in fluid ways.
In both films, the enclosure within darkness breaks as a result of a scene in a forest. The clearing becomes a place of passage within which characters are confronted with a failed reality that conducts them towards the mental labyrinth of abstract space, a terrain in continual construction and destruction that follows their certainties and doubts.
If there is something concrete in both of these films, it is language: Creole in Cilaos, Suso in La Bouche. Music and tongue correspond to local color, and through speech and song, the films invoke the inherently oral nature of myth. Diable Rouge and the other musicians in La Bouche and Cilaos bring to life the dramas of their pain, and all the energy contained, accumulated, and eventually released in the films come from them.
At the outset of making both films, there existed only the fascination that I felt from encounters with the musicians. Both La Bouche and Cilaos indicate exactly that the collective finds an exemplary expression through music, which serves as a vehicle to explore common ties between distant populations. In both cases, the space of collective tale-telling, stirred to life by music, makes of itself the space for a film. 
I make musicals for three additional reasons. The first is that the current of so-called realism that has overtaken narrative cinema bores and despairs me, much as it did when I studied “realistic” figuration in painting. With that said, I also feel despair when faced with the vacuity of a contingent of purely formalist works in cinema and in the visual arts. The musical genre presents itself as an adequate way to make films without falling into dominant contemporary schemes; music gives my work power through a distance from reality, and thus gives me a critical point of view with which to better understand our world.
Secondly, the words in music mark, more so than in any other mode of expression, an alliance between form and sense. The sung word—filled with timbre, tone, volume—is a passionate word. And this leads to the third reason, which is purely passion-based: Music holds a force that absorbs me. It is a reasonless reason, which to me, makes it a valid one.
When directing a film, I aim for the role of orchestra conductor, capable of measuring the capacities of my different collaborators and achieving their maximum without exhausting them. It is crucial to be able to stop at just the right moment, before someone feels that the rhythm has passed him or her by. My indications to actors are always very brief. The only useful thing I can tell them is that, in cinema, everything is amplified: The smallest gesture turns into caricature, the rapid grows ever rapider, feelings inflate as though under a magnifying glass. The best they can do is go towards the essential. Their presence is already idea and emotion.
What will I find through following a face? I always begin with a kind of intuition emerging from something emanating a particular force and follow it, as in an investigation. I aim to make internal connections throughout a film, though always in a painterly way: With the sensation of taking the good or the bad path, but without knowing why. 
I work from a personal place, and I am skeptical about the role of art in political and social processes—for instance, it has been clear to me ever since Tropic Pocket that my work could not substitute, nor even activate, real political will to change the critical situation of the Darién Gap. Instead, my first three films arose from an individual search to understand, through my own means, the society in which I was raised.
Afterwards came the diptych that considers society in a theatrical way, through interactions between individuals and a social group. The individual assumes a role determined by group pressure, and the group absorbs and transforms the individual. La Bouche offers perhaps the clearest example of this dynamic; La Bouche himself encounters his words through the chorus of other characters, and the impossibility that he faces in completing basic functions such as speaking and eating impacts both the social body and his own. The physical position of a person in space is also a social position. Films are important not only for the stories they tell, but also for the spaces they create within which the trajectories of different characters can cross.  
I have been classed as a director of short work. When I watch films by Bruce Baillie, Peter Hutton, or Agnès Varda, though, I never think that they made short films as the form is generally understood. A Hutton film’s value cannot be measured in minutes, just as the quality of Juan Rulfo and Robert Walser’s texts cannot be measured by page count. My friends from L’Abominable and other independent labs do not measure time like those involved in marketing do. The result is that each work’s length is determined by the time that each filmmaker needs and has the conditions to pay for.
Save for a French association’s support of Cilaos, I myself have paid for all of my film production; save for Like Shadows Growing as the Sun Goes Down, my work only exists to be screened digitally, with 16mm prints yet to be made. Through directing cheap and short films, I have achieved an accelerated production rhythm.
I have reached a point now, though, at which the experiences of my previous works have come together into a desire to make a longer piece, one that unites the impulses of my Colombian works with those of the musicals. The film will not be a musical itself, but it will nonetheless employ particular usages of word, narration, and space. For the first time, I feel I have material that demands a greater time investment, a duration innate to the project. For the first time, I am also unable to finance my work on my own.
My current place thus requires me to reevaluate my expectations. I began making cinema so that I could satisfy an artistic urge inside myself away from my daily working life. Now I hope not to spend years rewriting a script to appeal to fundraising bodies. It is possible that I do not need to make features, but I will only be able to more concretely know my work’s future once this experiment is done.
Additional statements by Camilo Restrepo about Impression of a War and Cilaos can be found on MUBI here. An essay by Michael Pattison about Impression of a War can be found here.

Executioners from Shaolin, Liu Chia Liang, 1977

I don't know why I never watched a Liu kung-fu film except for 36 Chambers. Maybe I unconciously held back until I was ready. Executioners immediately won me over, not only because its Bazinian approach to action (coupled with a magnificent use of the zoom lens), but also because of its organic feel. A world, in which every thought, every impuls is immediatly translated into choreographed physical movement. Also a world which is thoroughly sexualized, but somehow never in an obscene way. In the end, everything comes down to the (dialectically mediated) opposition of clenching one's own thighs vs kicking someone else's balls.

August 16 2017

The Forgotten: Howard Hawks' "Tiger Shark" (1932)

The critical consensus about Howard Hawks' themes and talents strikes me as bang on. The Cahiers critics identified him as a classic auteur, continually exploring characters and situations he had an affinity for, and in a consistent style. The surprise is it took so long for style and characters to come together to form the Hawks we know: his best early films are outliers, and only gradually did he come to explore the kind of group dynamics, sexual sparring and codes of professionalism with which he's now justly associated.
Early 1930s Hawks just isn't quite all there yet, but you can see lots of Hawksian characters and themes struggling to come together and be their ideal selves.
This one has Edward G. Robinson as a "Portagee" fisherman with a Chico Marx accent and an earring. For some reason, Hawks didn't really connect effectively with the urban tough guy actors until Bogart came his way, at which point it's like magic—though he made Paul Muni into a gangster star for one film. Maybe I'm basing this mainly on Jimmy Cagney's awful mustache in Ceiling Zero (1936), and by his descent into self-pity in The Crowd Roars (1932). The stoic Hawks could never really sympathize with performative breast-beating (though John Ford had a special place in his heart for it).
Robinson is interesting here, and more successful maybe in Barbary Coast (1935), but never feels like a Hawksian figure. It's not that he can't give Hawks what he wants, it's that the kind of characters he's playing seem to derail the movie from being a Hawks joint. In both films he's an explosive and somewhat unstable tough guy, though his ethnic braggadocio here is meant to be lovable. And in both cases he's paired with a more quiet sort of male lead, Joel McCrea in Barbary Coast, and the less attractive Richard Arlen here.
The film's revelation is Zita Johann, playing plebeian, a million miles from The Mummy (1932). I think I spotted a scar on her brow from where John Huston put her through a windscreen. (He gave up driving shortly afterwards, but not before killing a pedestrian—he reportedly decided that drinking and driving didn't mix and he knew which one he preferred. Officially, he was sober at the time of the fatal accident, just a bad driver. Johann was married to John Houseman at the time of her crash. Whether she was carrying on with Huston, or just confused by the similar names, I don't know.)
Anyhow, here she's great, rather fiery and appealing and receiving loving attention, in exquisite close-up after close-up, from cinematographer Tony Gaudio. She marries Robinson out of gratitude but then immediately falls for his best friend, Arlen, and the two spend the remaining reels in a state of Unresolved Sexual Tension.
There's also a lot of strong documentation of the tuna fishing industry, for those of you who have no interest in Sexual Tension. A lot of Hawks films fetishize a private world of professional activity: this one, like Hatari! (1962), gets a little too hypnotized by its vérité footage, though the on-location filming is impressive and unusual for the period. The adventurous Hawks looked on films partly as an excuse for outdoorsmanship, and here he gets to mess about in real boats, eschewing rear projection a fair bit of the time. But the story punctures any sense of hardboiled professionalism by having everyone continuously falling in the water the moment a shark turns up. But we get the camaraderie, the closed world, and the little male-on-male intimacies: Robinson scratches Arlen's back with his hook, and yes, he has a hook for a hand, and a scar, and an accent, and an earring. All things Robinson can do very well without, as we know.
Then there's a tragic conclusion which clears the deck for Resolution of Sexual Tension. The friends turning into enemies bit reminded me of Red River (1948), which has that surprising conclusion where the Obligatory Scene, according to screenwriting manuals, is simply sidestepped at the end by the characters recognizing that they don't hate each other, they love each other (and it takes a woman to tell them, of course). Here, no such solution is possible because both romance and marriage are involved. Truly successful Hollywood films of the era dance around morality and audience requirements and make everything work out to our dramatic satisfaction. Intriguing but flawed ones like this run smack into a wall whichever way they turn.
The Forgotten is a fortnightly column by David Cairns, author of Shadowplay. 

Shelter and Sanctuary: Close-Up on Jorge Thielen Armand’s "La Soledad"

Close-Up is a feature that spotlights films now playing on MUBI. Jorge Thielen Armand's La Soledad (2016) will be showing August 19 - 24 at the ICA in London, and playing on MUBI from September 1 - October 1, 2017 in the United Kingdom. 
“One might regard architecture as history arrested in stone.”
A. L. Rowse, The Use of History
End of Home. End of History.
In Jorge Thielen Armand’s La Soledad, the home holds many histories. Belonging to the filmmaker’s great-grandparents, this home, dubbed ‘The Solitude’ by its original owners, is an ancient mansion that, in its dereliction, displays its years like folds in the skin. Each crack creeping down the wall, straggling weed searching up through the paving, or unidentifiable stain spreading across the wallpaper layers the building with historical information; each tiny mark made tells a small part of a larger, continuing story. From the start of his film about this place, Armand conveys this sense of time passed (and equally, time passing) in the texture of his film, building upon the weightiness of intergenerational memory and experience that seeps out from the foundations of the home and fills the atmosphere of the filmed space. 
Armand opens with home movies, a selection of Super 8 tapes found on the site of the home that detail the activities within. Narrating over the top of these minute, momentary documents of his own past and that of the place, he introduces the building and its past inhabitants by framing everything immediately within a context of nostalgia, moments marked with the fondness of recollection and (mis)remembrance. As children run around the gardens whilst adults mill around the home—all bathed in sun-bleached yellows and greens—the crackling, faded blemish of amateur celluloid blankets everything in sentimentality. “I liked rummaging through the rooms, and seeing the faces of my ancestors,” Armand notes wistfully, with a matching shot spliced in of portraits of his predecessors that hang from the walls. Place and past become interspersed and indistinguishable.  
Then, a heavy light leak, scratched film incisions, a collapse of the image and a dissolve. Cut to the present day. The same building in a very different shape. Situated in the city of Caracas, in an area that was formally one of Venezuela’s most prosperous neighborhoods but is now defined by its crime and political instability1, ‘The Solitude’ sits as a sort of emblem of the country’s decline, deprived but defiant, still standing despite a lack of attention. Time has passed, the property has changed hands. Now informally in the care of Rosina, the family’s maid who continues to live there alongside her grandson, José, and his family, the space has changed, as has the class of its ownership. 
For the family, and evidently for Armand too, despite its decrepitude this place is a sanctuary. Even in disrepair, the structure retains its majesty, a small labyrinth of high ceilings, wide rooms and spiraling staircases, every self-contained space layered with an cross-generational narrative of amassed and discarded objects, each new resident adding to the family museum. The organic decay, too, lends grandeur as surrounding overgrowth penetrates the interior. Vines creep in through the cracks, moss grows up in empty pockets and vegetation climbs in through windows. Nature’s invaders lend the earthy brown clay a living green texture, animating the inanimate and breathing life into a dying space. But not everyone sees it this way. With no formalized right to the building and none of the economic status or social advantage required to fight for one, the family faces eviction and the building is due for demolition. End of home, end of history.
An Archeological Process
Armand has described the creation of La Soledad as an “archeological process,”2 a way of exploring the emotional sensations produced by moving through the building, sifting through the objects inside and interpreting the space through the camera. It seems from the tone of the film that this was not entirely a pleasant experience, that the place he returned to was not the one uncovered in the home movies, or the same as that in his memory. Times have changed, Venezuela has entered a state of sustained, ever more disastrous decline, as has this building that acts as a slightly blunt metaphor for it. Oil prices have plummeted, inflation is skyrocketing, unemployment equally so. Food, medicine and other essentials are in critical shortage. Violence is commonplace, poverty is widespread. A once prosperous, altruistic petroleum producer, now the world’s fastest contracting economy.3 A once grand and impressive manor, now a crumbling ruin. Venezuela sits in peril, and ‘The Solitude’ mirrors it microcosmically.
Employing those involved directly to play themselves, Armand mounts something of an exorcism of the mansion, a sendoff for the ghosts of the countless generations passed that haunt the building’s current inhabitants, and more obliquely, for a country in crisis. In a manner that is increasingly prevalent within contemporary non-fiction filmmaking, the director uses a stylistic approach more recognizable in fiction (gliding, long duration and often elaborately staged camerawork; written or recreated scenarios; poetic visual digressions and a collaborative process shared between participants and creator) and applies them to a framework that is familiar to documentary: the examination of a real situation of direct relation to the filmmaker, and the sense of real, almost invasive, intimacy that can come with this. Armand’s film features the actors of the actual event performing their own truths, and though presumably arranged, the activities they undergo are mostly free from any sense of performance, their written dialogues as ordinary, grounded and free of self-consciousness as genuine ones would be. Participants sit and shoot beers, talk idly of the desperation of their relative situations and equally casually of extreme solutions. “We’ll do a couple of express kidnappings and you’ll have dollars in your account.”
Crumbled Masonry, Peeling Paint, and Encroaching Rust
Armand’s observances are patient, his scenarios gentle and ordinary, and La Soledad is, for the most part, fairly straight in its depiction of its situation and the matters it portrays decidedly domestic. Rosina tends gently to the household, José works on the yard, the children potter about, and the home feels like a solace compared to the hostility of the society around. Everything occurs with a rhythm that is gently entrancing, cycles of labor and leisure all under one roof. Indeed, far from solitary, ‘The Solitude’ is instead a deeply communal space, all open doors and passing bodies. Yet, what elevates the film are the ways in which it digresses, where it manages to be suggestive of something greater than that being directly depicted, where the past slips through or the future reveals itself as a menace.
These deviations come in various forms. A night sequence that sees José lie wide awake, staring into the night sky while his family sleep. His face is riddled with angst, the dark corners of the room around him animated by the invisible ghosts of those who’ve struggled before, while his mind is occupied by the impossibility of sustaining a future. Or by day, shots of him combing the gardens with a metal detector, searching for a treasure rumored to be buried in the grounds that will lift his family miraculously from poverty and create that future. Bleaker still, his brother peeling back the wallpaper of the home, clouds of dust parting to reveal razorblades embedded in the bricks, the anamnesis of a past just as dark as this present. 
In some films, these moments of poetic interference, where realism slips into something nearer to fantasy, can be terribly mishandled, either too aloof and resting on easy ambiguity, or consciously and overtly strange, too loaded and heavy handed. Armand manages the balance, in part because of the location. The rich, luminous greens of the surrounding plant-life, the moody, necrotic browns of the shadowy crevices of the building’s interior, all fit into the poetic potential of ruin.4 Analyzing the idea of ‘ruin lust,’ McLain Clutter writes5 that sites of visible decay, “crumbled masonry, peeling paint, and encroaching rust” all serve to “vividly signify bygone events and past wholes,” and also to “register and re-present time.” This is very much the case in La Soledad, where place and past are intertwined, where the ruin is not just aesthetic, but in a way historic. 
Beyond the pure aesthetic appeal of these environments—and behind cinematographer Rodrigo Michelangeli’s talent for exploiting the evocative tendencies of natural light and for framing architectural spaces in a manner that highlights their picturesque qualities—is something else. By emphasizing the importance of the home as site of memory, familial histories that are continually being rewritten and reregistered, Armand loads his representation of decay with a significance that is more than purely visual. His ruins are not just nostalgic, but loaded with meaning that his film both directly registers, and indirectly hints towards. John Patrick Leary, in an essay6 on Detroit, remarks that,“so much ruin photography and ruin film aestheticizes poverty without inquiring of its origins, dramatizes spaces but never seeks out the people that inhabit and transform them, and romanticizes isolated acts of resistance without acknowledging the massive political and social forces aligned against the real transformation, and not just stubborn survival, of the city.” Fortunately, the same cannot be said for Armand’s approach to his Venezuelan ruins. 
Shelter, And Ideally Sanctuary Too
A debut feature that bears little sense of the director’s inexperience, La Soledad follows a short film by Armand, Flor de la Mar. A film about a community of island fisherman whose livelihood has suffered as the result of governmental mismanagement and indifference, it features men who collectively resist to protect a declining site of considerable importance to them. It’s clear then, Armand’s work has a running theme. In La Soledad, when asked why she allows so many people to live in her home, Rosina replies that “they are all my sons.” The building is as much a historic home as a social space, a community project. What lends it life is not the pictures on the walls or the chairs in the living room, nor the cracks in the wall or weeds in the floor, but what these things represent, the people that have inhabited the house over the centuries, and those that continue to do so despite all they are experiencing. 
Home means different things to different people, but for most, it means shelter, at the very least, and ideally sanctuary, too. A place all of your own against it all. La Soledad explores what it means to have that compromised, to face the removal of something so fundamental. For these people, destruction of the property means not just the loss of a place to live, but in many ways, the erasure of an entire intergenerational and interfamilial history. This is a legacy that is recorded as much in the physicality of the home as it is in the air that floats around it, or equally in the minds of those that have experienced it and will struggle to forget. For Armand, this building isn’t necessarily home now, and neither is Venezuela, a country he left a decade ago. To return there to author this film is almost like attending a funeral, the creation of a tribute that will fittingly lay his experience of the country to rest, but also one that will commemorate the building and the people and spirits which have lived, and continue to live, within its walls.
The set photographs included above are a selection of images taken of the home and its grounds by José Corredor during the filming of La Soledad, and were supplied by Jorge Thielen Armand for the purposes of this article.
Works Cited

August 15 2017

Gedankenspaziergang (auf dünnem Eis)

Konrad Wolfs DER KLEINE PRINZ (DDR 1966)
Pauli (6 Jahre): „Was ist unmöglich?”

Ich: „Fliegen ohne Hilfsmittel zum Beispiel.”

Pauli: „Warum ist das unmöglich?”

Ich: „Naturgesetze...”

Pauli: „Und in Geschichten?”

Ich: „Da ist alles möglich.”

Pauli: „Was ist der Unterschied zwischen Wirklichkeit und Geschichten?”

Ich: „Wirklichkeit ist das, was wir nicht erzählen können.”

Pauli: „Verstehe ich nicht.”

Ich: „Sobald man es versucht, wird es wieder eine Geschichte.”

Pauli: „Zum Beispiel?”

Ich: „Wie war's heute im Kindergarten?”

Pauli: „Gut.”

Ich: „Siehst du.”

bored with übernommenen weisheiten

Ich frage mich, warum solche Texte es immer (oder wenigstens oft) nötig haben, Feindbilder aufzubauen. "The Hollywood of 1966 was bland and besieged" steht da. 1966 sind unter anderem die folgenden Filme in (oder nahe bei) Hollywood produziert worden:
7 Women (Ford)
The Appaloosa (Furie)
Arabesque (Donen)
El Dorado (Hawks)
Fantastic Voyage (Fleischer)
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (Lester)
Lord Love a Duck (Axelrod)
Nevada Smith (Hathaway)
Queen of Blood (Harrington)
Torn Curtain (Hitchcock)
Seconds (Frankenheimer)
Three on a Coach (Lewis)
Trouble With Angels (Lupino)
The Wild Angels (Corman)
Dazu viele Filme, die ich noch nicht kenne, aber von denen ich mir viel verspreche, von Leuten wie Levin, Douglas, Edwards, Tashlin. Die Legende vom fußlahmen old hollywood der 1960er könnte langsam einmal ad acta gelegt werden.

Contemporary British Horror Cinema: Industry, Genre and Society

contemporary british horror cinema cover.jpg

Johnny Walker - 2015
Edinburgh University Press

Sixty years following the release of The Curse of Frankenstein seems like an appropriate time to contemplate the state of horror movies from Britain. The film catapulted a small British company to an internationally recognized brand. The horror genre has remained commercially viable in a way it hadn't been previously, and as such, shares some of the characteristics of its subjects, never really dying, and always finding a way to come back, often in a different form.

Walker, a lecturer at Northumbria University, discusses a handful of films made in this current century, but is primarily focused on the context of the filmmaking. This first chapter is on the various convulsions of the British film industry, with the ways films have been financed and released. Walker also looks at the ways certain films were made for a general audience, while others were made primarily to appeal to a niche group of viewers. The chapters that were particularly striking for myself were about the "video nasties", a group of banned films that proved to be inspirational for several contemporary filmmakers, and the chapter on youth centered horror films in the wake of various riots or activities deemed anti-social. And it's not like these films can not be enjoyed without knowing about any of the various forces, historical, cinematic or social, that come into play here, but it's of help, especially when discussing a genre that has often been deemed disreputable.

There are no lurid descriptions of scenes of mayhem or gore. Those who value film history might be shocked and amused to read of a critic who complained that Eden Lake and Donkey Punch took their cues from other then current "torture porn" films, rather than a classic movie like Peeping Tom, conveniently forgetting that Michael Powell's film was considered extreme at the time of its initial release.

There is also a chapter on Hammer, a company both dependent on nostalgia for its older titles, and its various attempts, with new ownership, to attempt being a commercially viable producer of horror films for an entirely new, younger audience.

In the chapter on Hammer, Walker covers how the company initially returned to film production with an episodic film made to be seen on the social network site, MySpace. Walker later surveys how horror films are now visible through a variety of platforms - theatrical, home video and internet.

Films are mentioned based on how they fit into the individual essays, but there is no hierarchy of films or directors. Still, that Walker finds more to write about the critically dismissed Lesbian Vampire Killers makes that film intriguing in spite of itself - with paragraphs on the financing, it's brief life as a possible Hammer production, and as a product celebrating and satirizing the attitudes of the some of the specifically British "Lad Mags" of the 1990s.

The book did inspire me to check out a documentary on "Video Nasties" by horror filmmaker Jake West, on the internet horror channel, Shudder - a good source for seeing some of the titles Walker mentions. One of the several people discussing the hysteria of that time is Martin Barker, one of the few voices that openly questioned the censorship that took place at the time. Barker reminds the viewer to pay attention to history. In addition to West, filmmakers who have grown up with the video nasties getting some current consideration would include Neil Marshall, Philip Ridley and Christopher Smith. With that in mind, it may well be that some of the films considered extreme or culturally of little meaning could well be reevaluated as classics in the future, and Walker's book will have even greater value for future film historians.

heartless poster.jpg

A Courtyard of Love and Politics: Close-Up on Jean Renoir’s "The Crime of Monsieur Lange"

Close-Up is a feature that spotlights films now playing on MUBI. Jean Renoir's The Crime of Monsieur Lange (1936) is playing August 31 - September 30, 2017 in the United States as part of the series Jean Renoir.
From the beginning, Jean Renoir embraced dualities. One wants to say he played with them, and that’s often true, but he also took them seriously. When these two things are happening at the same time, his work is imbued with a magic that still casts a spell, just as it did over French New Wave filmmakers of the 1960s who rightly took him as a father figure.
A striking example of contrasting impulses, his first film on his own, La fille de l’eau (Whirlpool of Fate, 1925) is one of his open-air works—a heroine’s journey out in the world—but at its heart is a dream sequence and very theatrical.  That set Renoir’s aesthetic course.  Naturalism or neo-realism are rightly associated with him in the 1930s but the love of theatre that became especially vibrant in his 1950s movies generally plays a part in the earlier ones, while those later ones are not simply artifice—French Cancan (1955) would be alluring if it simply observed the behavioral beauty of Françoise Arnoul.
Equally, and vital in The Crime of Monsieur Lange (1936), Renoir’s evident affection for the characters and worlds he creates does not preclude a tough-minded engagement with realities, whether of personal relationships or stinging social and political currents.
So, The Crime of Monsieur Lange is famously born out of the emerging Popular Front in France and anticipates its political force and influence before emerging fascism would destroy it by the end of the 1930s (forcing this director into exile). The story, developed by Renoir and Jean Castanier and made into a graceful screenplay with the collaboration of no less than Jacques Prévert in pre-Marcel Carné days, winds up as an imaginative, entertaining fable about society’s necessary struggle against evil, always there within its fabric and either getting the upper hand or being destroyed. The moral questions around this could not be more serious, indeed challenging—and that’s there in the film. But Renoir recognizes that the space of the screen is its own privileged space, in which our thoughts and responses can roam freely, so, at one with the film’s characters to whom the flashback story is told, we can “bless” the crime of the title and the vulnerable lovers who cross the gray windswept beach in the final images without resolving the moral dilemma of any killing of one human being by another.
The politics, while at the movie’s heart, play throughout as an undercurrent, the film itself experienced as a gentle melodrama, characteristically charming and not without a touch of romanticism. As its intentions are mixed, so also are its tone and aesthetics. It has real locations and an ambiance of the Parisian world of the time, but the courtyard and apartments where much of the action takes place also feels like an elaborate set, where evolving affections and harmonies, the machinations of the morally bankrupt publisher Batala (Jules Berry), and a later move by characters to become a communal ensemble create a deeply drawn artistic reality within a vibrant real world. And if there is finally a murder, there is also time for a song, and for the hero’s dreams of his imagined hero, Arizona Jim, and his whimsically created Mexican girl. It is not only intentions that play at different levels in the movie, but moods, always artfully in balance in the mise en scène.
In a sophisticated structure like this one it’s hard to say what’s most important, but a few things do jump out. First, there is the organization within scenes, often pressing characters close in interiors but allowing for a lot of fluid reframing as they move about. But the small rooms in the courtyard set can also contain an individual’s dreams, so it’s a joy when Renoir lingers on Amédée Lange (René Lefèvre) writing his Arizona Jim adventures beneath that wonderful map, no less than his varied interactions with Valentine (Florelle), or a hidden, shadowed embrace of Charlie (Maurice Baquet) and Estelle (Nadia Sibirskaïa) early in the movie. Always passionate about formal and stylistic things, though not obsessively showy about it, Renoir will in key moments like the climax orchestrate the staging of a scene with elaborate, complex camera movement. Here, Lange is left stunned by Batala—“back from the dead,” as the saying goes, and as malevolently self-serving as ever—who descends from the office to find Valentine in the courtyard and, a bit manic in his resurrection, makes an unwanted sexual move on this one time lover; from outside, the camera traces Lange’s own path downward but then in the courtyard diverges to move in a circle in the opposite direction until it has come around to where Lange himself meets the other two and shoots and kills Batala. It is an unexpected moment for them all and one in which Lange becomes not the Arizona Jim of his innocent fantasy but a less pure hero addressing the darker complexity of violent justice, one who looks forward more to the Western heroes of the 1950s.
And Batala, it must be said, has some of the Mephistophelean aspect of the villains of Bend of the River (1952), Seven Men from Now (1956), or 3:10 to Yuma (1957). It would be comforting to say that someone so thoroughly corrupt and purely self- interested and with more than a touch of narcissism would come across simply as a monster, but it’s one of the interesting mysteries of movies, given an inevitable contemporary resonance as this is written, that a real man with these qualities could seem more like a grotesque cartoon, while Batala, as brilliantly incarnated by Jules Berry, is in his way kind of engaging and even has some shading. A privileged moment—more than a moment because it lasts nearly five minutes in the middle of the movie—has Batala accompanied to the train station for his earlier escape by the mistress, Edith (Sylvia Bataille), who he has not treated well but who loves him. In a few indelible scenes—a two-shot in the café where he tells her that a woman alone crying on a train platform will soon draw sympathetic attention, a shot from inside the train as she passionately says goodbye from outside, and finally the image of her alone on the platform crying in a two-shot with another approaching man, ending in a memorable forward tracking shot as they walk away together—Renoir seems not only to affirm Batala’s insight (which cost him nothing but may have let Edith go more gently after all) but to lift the whole movie from any strict intention of getting to the moral point. As if that weren’t enough, these minutes of the film, when they come back to the central courtyard narrative, continue with Valentine’s song to Amédée in cosy two shot “Au jour, le jour; à la nuit, la nuit.” It’s always the greatest filmmakers who trust to follow the deeper feeling of a moment and find their art there, more than in even the most deliberated ideas—of which Renoir always had more than his share.
From his silents through his earlier sound films in the 1930s Renoir had been working towards a movie like this, one that seemed to have all his qualities at once, and realized in a way that feels at once relaxed and concise.  In satisfying balance, he is socially purposeful without ever being didactic while infusing this captivating story with a rich weave of nuance and feeling that remains ageless.  

"Twin Peaks," Episode 14 Recap: Tell Me The Story

Twin Peaks Recap is a weekly column by Keith Uhlich covering David Lynch and Mark Frost's limited, 18-episode continuation of the Twin Peaks television series.
It's James Hurley's (James Marshall) birthday and he wants a present. Not that he's demanding it—no, no. James is cool. He's always been cool. So in that affable way of his that can be equal parts endearing and insufferable, he asks his going-on-23-year-old coworker, Freddie Sykes (Jake Wardle)—a U.K. to U.S. transplant who, like James, is a security guard at the Great Northern Hotel—to explain why he's always wearing a green gardener's glove on his right hand. "Tell me the story," he says to Freddie.
The young man obliges the birthday boy with a captivating tale ("you ain't gonna believe me anyway," he prefaces) of a man in the sky called The Fireman, who told him to buy the glove, which would give his fist the power "of an enormous pile driver," and then to fly to the town of Twin Peaks where "you will find your destiny." Summarizing his story, which he relates about midway through the 14th part of Mark Frost and David Lynch's revived Twin Peaks, hardly does it justice—not to the way Wardle (who appeared briefly in Part 2 of the new series and is best known for a 2015 YouTube video entitled "The English Language in 67 Accents & Random Voices") performs it nor to the patient yet enthralling way in which Frost and Lynch present it. ("Recapper, heal thyself!" sayeth the Creators?)
Words have the power to transfix (and lead us to transcendence), but they can also be inadequate to the task at hand, diluting—per FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer) way back in Part 3—"the absurd mystery of the strange forces of existence." (That's the subtitle, incidentally, of Lynch's never-realized film about a teenage dwarf rock-star, Ronnie Rocket.) Not all stories require words, though in this installment, Albert goes all in with them when explaining the first ever "Blue Rose" Task Force case to the newly initiated Tammy Preston (Chrysta Bell). Seems there was a woman named Lois Duffy who was found in a hotel room in 1975 with her doppelganger. ("She smiles, then dies, then disappears before their eyes," says Albert, giving the tale a poetic flourish.) The field officers assigned to the case were Gordon Cole (Lynch) and Phillip Jeffries (the late David Bowie) who both reported Duffy's last words as "I'm like the blue rose."
"Blue rose does not occur in nature. It's not a natural thing," says Tammy, picking up Albert's thread. Her kicker: "The dying woman was not natural" (the Twin Peaks ethos, you might say, in a nutshell). Tammy then goes on to give the faux Lois Duffy a name—"tulpa," a Tibetan Buddhist reference to a being or object created through spiritual or mental powers. (Like an artist conjuring a character? Time to pull out that copy of Lynch's Catching the Big Fish.) It's telling that Tammy's chosen term doesn't diminish the story of Lois Duffy, but, as the best words do, deepens it, makes it feel more resonant, more expansive, more mysterious. And the metaphysical allusions don't stop there, as Gordon—fresh off the phone with Sheriff Frank Truman (Robert Forster), who relays Deputy Tommy "Hawk" Hill's (Michael Horse) discovery of the lost Laura Palmer diary pages to the FBI Deputy Director—soon arrives to tell a story of his own that revolves around a passage from the Sanskrit philosophical texts known as the Upanishads.  
An "ancient phrase," as Gordon describes it, was said to him in a dream by the Italian actress and model Monica Bellucci, who very recently failed to fend off James Bond's advances in Spectre (2015) and here plays a fantastical version of herself. "We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives inside the dream," she says to Gordon as they have a coffee at a small French café. Lynch himself used this "dreamer who dreams" maxim during several of his in-person introductions of Inland Empire (2006), though it is purportedly a loose, if not incorrect translation of a larger passage in the Mundaka Upanishad, one that reads, more accurately (apparently): "As the spider creates the cobweb out of its saliva, it lives and plays in it and at the end the same spider swallows up the cobweb, similarly the God, the Lord creates the whole universe as the act of His thought. He manifests in it and again He withdraws the whole universe in Himself." An error? A variation? A bit of both?
Just before this scene, Lynch and Frost put in a seemingly unrelated though hilarious aural aside in which a window washer, seen only in quick-flitting shadow, drags his squeegee across a pane of glass, wreaking screechy havoc with Gordon's hearing aid. Then they drop a narrative bombshell as the apparently treacherous Diane Evans (Laura Dern)—told about the wedding ring, inscribed to "Dougie" from "Janey-E," that was taken out of the stomach of the deceased Major Garland Briggs (the late Don S. Davis)—casually reveals that "Jane," nickname "Janey-E" (Naomi Watts), is her estranged half-sister. So in quick succession, we're attuned to the individual power of both sound and speech, the better to discern what arises from, or is hidden by, their interplay.
Though Gordon describes his dream as specifically as possible, there are plenty of evocative puzzlements, especially when Bellucci silently directs him to turn around and he sees a younger version of himself. This is actually footage from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), from a scene in which Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan, mostly absent, in all his forms, in this episode) confronts Gordon about a disturbing dream he had and then Bowie's Jeffries materializes out of nowhere. Complicating the moment is that this is actually a different take than in the finished film, one that was included in the feature-length "Missing Pieces" section of the Peaks DVD and Blu-ray box sets. (Jeffries says "Who do you think this is there?" in the film version and "Who do you think that is there?" in the "Missing Pieces" variation.) Further, Bowie's voice in this version is actually dubbed by an actor named Nathan Frizzell—perhaps a necessary technical choice should some physical version of Jeffries appear down the line (he already made an apparent audio cameo in Part 2), though one that still lends a strange sort of resonance to Gordon saying "Damn! I hadn't remembered that." Memory is, after all, the ficklest of beasts.
"I don't remember a thing," says Hawk at the end of the episode's centerpiece sequence in which he, Frank Truman, and Deputies Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) and Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz) head to "Jackrabbit's Palace," the site (actually a regal old tree stump) referenced by Major Briggs in his long-hidden secret message. "We'd sit here and make up great tall tales," says a wistful Bobby, before the quartet walk 253 yards due east where, at 2:53 pm, Black Lodge time (and time again), they come across the naked body of Naido (Nae Yuuki), the eyeless woman who acted as Agent Cooper's guide in Part 3. She stirs, still very much alive. And then a vortex opens in the sky, capturing the four men's attention. Hawk, Frank and Bobby seem rather predictably transfixed (awe by numbers), while Andy (the closest Twin Peaks, series and locale, has to a holy fool) exhibits a more singular curiosity, perhaps stoked by the tender, touching way he attends to Naido. (How far he's come since weeping ceaselessly over Laura Palmer's corpse.)
It's Andy who's sucked up into the vortex, where he's deposited in the Art-Deco-Industrial home of the Giant, a.k.a. ??????? (Carel Struycken) who reveals his name, finally, as "The Fireman," which implies, along with his previously exhibited behavior, that he's a kind of Black Lodge watchdog. In the subsequent scene between James and Freddie, the latter describes his own encounter with The Fireman in verbose terms, as if they were in constant conversation. The scene between Andy and The Fireman makes clear that whatever discussions are had between this omnipotent being and the mortals he calls upon happen, at least in this space, via cryptic extended silences. (Words come later, as the dreamers attempt to give meaning to their divine encounters.)
The Fireman magically conjures a sculpture in Andy's hands; it looks like a pine cone with a chimney, and smoke emanates out of and withdraws into it in ways that recall the backwards-burning house in Lynch's own Lost Highway (1997), which was itself referencing a similar structure on fire from Robert Aldrich's great paranoiac noir Kiss Me Deadly (1955). The smoke directs Andy's attention to a skylight in the ceiling, where images and characters from the current series appear—the ravenous Experiment (Erica Eynon), the skull-crushing Woodsman (Robert Broski), Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) surrounded by angels, the two Coopers split in mirror-image, the telephone pole, marked #6, near where Richard Horne (Eamon Farren) committed his hit-and-run. It's not all recap, however: Andy also sees a shaky vision of himself leading his wife Lucy (Kimmy Robertson) down a hallway, turning her to face something offscreen. Is she looking at it in horror? In reverence? Another interpretive space to fill. When the scene returns to Earth, there's a moment where multiple Hawks, Franks and Bobbys walk around the Jackrabbit's Palace tree stump, slowly resolving themselves into one. (Infinite people wandering infinite spaces.) Then a much more confident Andy appears carrying Naido. "She's very important," he notes.
So, it turns out, is Sarah Palmer (Grace Zabriskie), whose own tragic story is contained in every line of her face. No surprise that she likes to drink and smoke herself into stupors, even publicly, as on this evening when she heads to the Elk's Point #9 Bar. The pool table is hopping, the neon Pabst Blue Ribbon sign is humming, and Sarah is craving, in her pathetically skittish way, a Bloody Mary. A man (John Paulsen) at the end of the bar notices her. He turns his pudgy body into view, revealing a sweaty T-shirt with "Truck You" emblazoned on it. (We might recall the ancient phrase uttered by the redneck Buella [Kathleen Deming] in Part 1: "It's a world of truck drivers.") Sarah attempts a quick rebuff, but the guy is soon getting in her face about her "bulldyke" tendencies and other such niceities. "It's a free cunt-ry," he hisses after he tells her he'll sit wherever he pleases.
But little does this elephant in the room know he's in the presence of a bloodthirsty predator. Sarah turns toward him, grabs her face like her deceased daughter did in the Red Room with Cooper early in the series, and rips it off to reveal a horrific being with a distorted ring finger and a toothy grin. (Perhaps the mature version of that winged amphibian-bug creature that crawled into the little girl's mouth at the end of the epochal Part 8.) "Do you really want to fuck with this?" she asks the man, before replacing her face and, with snake-like precision, biting his throat out. Sarah screams and then plays innocent with the bartender as to the man's fate. "Sure is a mystery, huh?" she sighs.
What more needs to be said.
• A denser episode than usual in Lynch and Frost's boldly confident mix of narrative and non-narrative elements. I don't think either tendency can be laid entirely at one or the other's door, and that's part of what makes their work so alive to me. They strike a great balance with each other, trusting in what their conscious minds know as well as in where their subconscious instincts take them.
• Jay R. Ferguson, a.k.a. Stan Rizzo from Mad Men, appears as Gordon's Las Vegas FBI contact Randall Headley, who chews out his subordinate, Wilson (Owain Rhys Davies), in one of those alternately hilarious and horrifying Lynchian outbursts of anger. ("This is what we do in the FBI!!!")
• So Deputy Chad Broxford (John Pirruccello) doesn't get a bullet to the brain, as I've been hoping for. But he does get arrested by Frank and company, who say they've been surveilling his criminal activities for months. (Love the sense that there are stories, in Twin Peaks, that go on well outside our purview.) His punishment, for the moment, is quite delicious, trapped in a cell between the cooing-and-chirping Naido and a beaten-up, drooling drunk (Jay Aaseng) who repeats everything he says. Lynch keeps the scene going to just the point where the shrillness and irritation stick perfectly in your craw.
• I got a lump in the throat after James says "I remember being 23" to Freddie. The way Lynch and Frost exploit the passage of time in the new series, coming at it in often indirect or offhanded ways, is quite moving, and in no small part because they give their performers (however long or short their screen time) the perfect notes to play. Also sweet that James's pined-for lady at the Roadhouse, Renee (Jessica Szohr), who Freddie and he talk about here, shares a name with Marshall's own wife, Renee Griffin, who he married in 1998.   
• James investigates the Great Northern's boilers where he hears the same unearthly, if soothing hum that Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) and his secretary Beverly (Ashley Judd) investigated in several past episodes. It seems loudest here, especially from behind a locked door that I wouldn't be surprised leads to Naido's metallic home in space.
• There's one shot in the Sarah Palmer bar scene where her cigarette smoke is moving backwards. Yp-e-e-e-e-e-e-rc.
• Our Roadhouse act this week is country-folk-rock singer Lissie, performing "Wild West" from her 2016 album My Wild West. I love how excited the establishment's M.C. (J.R. Starr) is when he announces her, a rather stark contrast to his more muted intros for "The" Nine Inch Nails and Twin Peaks's own James Hurley.
• Two more random girls appear at the Roadhouse, though they're more clearly connected to the ongoing Peaks narrative than most: Sophie (Emily Stofle) and Megan (Shane Lynch) discuss Megan's getting high at the local "nuthouse." It seems like another moody digression until Megan mentions a guy named Billy who turned up bloody and battered at her house, and with who, it's soon revealed, Megan's mother Tina had an affair. This sounds very close to the tale that poor Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn) is obsessed with in her two purgatorial scenes thus far. And the way Megan describes Billy rather eerily calls to mind that beat-up, words-repeating drunk who's currently in lockup with Deputy Chad. Sophie's chilling glances (she clearly knows more than she's letting on) only add to the sense of unease. As does the rather meta fact that we're watching David Lynch's current wife (Stofle, who he married in 2009) chatting with an actress who shares her director's surname but is not a blood relation. Intentional? Coincidence? Sure is a mystery, huh?

August 14 2017

Discussing "Let the Sunshine In" with Claire Denis

Let the Sunshine In
Juliet Binoche in Let the Sunshine In
Claire Denis's Let the Sunshine In charts the delightfully erratic dalliances and social sparring of a romantically wayward painter, Isabelle (Juliette Binoche), with the many men she encounters in her life (played by, among others, Xavier Beauvois, Alex Descas, and Gérard Depardieu). The film will receive its North American premiere at the New York Film Festival. After premiering in the Un Certain Regard section of the 70th Cannes Film Festival, we had a chance to sit down and discuss the new film with its director. The "Christine" that Denis speaks of is Christine Angot, her co-screenwriter and a notable French novelist and playwright.

NOTEBOOK: So Bright Sunshine In is your first comedy—it’s a sex comedy and it’s often a very funny film. But what struck me about it was how closely linked the humor and the sadness are. Could you talk about how you balanced that mix of tones or how you achieved that? 
CLAIRE DENIS: It was not very difficult because in that field, looking for true love, it’s sometimes funny or ridiculous and a lot of times very sad. So the balance was there immediately when we started writing the script. I remember I told Christine [Angot], “You know what. Let’s call the film Agony.” But for me, it was an inside title: Agony. The agony of love. And yet, thanks to the words of Christine… I thought maybe: “Let's film the world frankly with their nonsense.” It also becomes funny. 
NOTEBOOK: There’s a harshness to it, but there’s also a lot of tenderness. And it’s all just there.
DENIS: And frankness. 
NOTEBOOK: This film is quite a departure from your other work. Bastards was in Un Certain Regard before, and that film is quite bleak. Did you want to do a comedy afterwards?
DENIS: Not at all, no. I was preparing another film and we were delayed. And this producer asked: “Did you want to do a film in-between?” And I asked Christine to work with me because we had worked together before. It was like [snaps fingers] a short jump, not against Les salauds [Bastards] in any way. I don’t fight against my films. Sometimes I think they are not as good as I wish, but they are there. There must be a reason.
NOTEBOOK: It was just very different in the sense that your previous films are more elliptical and sensual, whereas this seems more dialogue-driven.
DENIS: The line I told Christine was: “We don’t have much time. We don’t have much of a budget. Let’s film your words.” I had already done a film with Christine before, a short film. The word is going to be our space, our location, and Juliette [Binoche] as Isabelle would be our master of ceremony. So it was not like changing completely. I think I am the very same person. I think Juliette brought a lot of joy to the film, for sure.
NOTEBOOK: She really is the center out of which you build the film. She has all these different men circling around her in different ways. What I found interesting was how you build this film up from these small interactions, these small moments, kind of like the paintings at the gallery—the giant grid. How did you approach the structure of the film? 
DENIS: Block by block. We knew we would start with the love scene. And we knew it would end with… How do you call it, the spirit?
NOTEBOOK: The medium?
DENIS: Yes, the medium. We were building block by block. We were telling the story block by block. Not trying to tell it continuously like “a month later” or “two days after.” It was block by block, and in the end we realized it created a sort of continuity with the character. 
NOTEBOOK: So it was more intuitive, the way you structured it?
DENIS: I’m not American, so the word “structure”... Me, I’m always intuitive with my structure. It’s transitory. It’s something you need at a certain point, then you have to forget about it, go back to it. I hate the structure as a form of narration. I like ellipses. I like blocks. I like moments. And I try to make films with that.
NOTEBOOK: Binoche’s character here is a painter, which works wonderfully given how you return to these particular images. There’s this recurring one of Binoche facing away from the camera, and the back of her neck and her shoulders bare. But I’m curious why you chose painting as her profession.
DENIS: We wanted her to be fragile as artists are… As an artist you have to pay a price for this freedom, and to make a living is not an easy thing. A writer? No, because Christine is a writer. A filmmaker? No, because it would be too mirrored in the story. And Juliette is a painter. She was painting already in Leos Carax’s film Les amants du Pont-Neuf. I asked her and we took as an example Joan Mitchell, the famous American painter. You see her photographs in the film. Juliette and I like her work very much. That type of woman painter was really the model for Isabelle.
NOTEBOOK: You mentioned earlier that in your mind Agony was the title of your film. I remember first hearing about the project and it was called Dark Glasses. Did that change early on?
DENIS: No, no. Because there was this fake news on the Internet that we were adapting Roland Barthes Fragments: A Lover’s Discourse. And “Agony” is one of the chapters, and you cannot ask a producer to have a film called Agony in his drawer. He would freak out. I thought: “Let’s call it Dark Glasses,” as if someone wanted to hide. But for me it was a fake title—just for the files. It was not a title for me.
NOTEBOOK: How was it working with your longtime director of photography Agnès Godard on this film, because it’s a very different sort of filming. For example, you have that shot of Xavier Beauvois and Juliette Binoche which is this fluid long take, but then you have these scenes where the camera just stays fixed, catching the dialogue, which is quite different from some of your previous work. How different was that?
DENIS: Number one was that we chose the 1.66 format to make it narrower. Number two is that we wanted to test this big, sunny camera, and it was sort of heavy. You couldn’t move it completely as I used to move with Agnès, so it changed a little bit. To make a film inside the car with that camera was not easy. And for me it was a challenge to accept, to be bothered by technique. I had to fight again my own fear of being too heavy with this camera, too obvious. In that small apartment, we were [spreads arms and gestures out]...
NOTEBOOK: So you tried to let the material speak for itself, I suppose? 
DENIS: No, I never let the material speak. I had to speak, but suddenly, this camera was too big, too demanding. Everyone was looking on screen. So it was not the first time I was working in digital, but it was the first time I was working with such a heavy...machine-gun. 
This interview was originally filmed at the Cannes Film Festival. Watch it here.

Review. Where Is This Getting Us? — Michael Winterbottom's "The Trip to Spain"

The Trip to Spain
“Our gentleman was approximately fifty years old; his complexion was weathered, his flesh scrawny, his face gaunt, and he was a very early riser and a great lover of the hunt.” What the description lacks in flattery it redeems with comic affection. A few pages later, Cervantes’ Don Quixote (by way of Edith Grossman’s English translation) imagines describing himself, to a love interest, as “never sufficiently praised.” Can you picture Steve Coogan in the role? Gone bonkers from reading too many books, yearning for a campaign of romantic chivalry and publicly displayed valor, Quixote recruits his farmer neighbor Sancho Panza, “a good man…without much in the way of brains,” who, when promised an island, “left his wife and children and agreed to be his neighbor’s squire.” Here, how about Rob Brydon? Assuming you even know who he is.
It was Brydon, in 2010’s The Trip, who wryly described Coogan as “a British Don Quixote,” intending both compliment and critique. Now two sequels later, the duo and their director Michael Winterbottom have literalized that idea, in their mordant way, with The Trip to Spain. As in the first film and in 2014’s The Trip to Italy, Coogan and Brydon play glancingly satirized versions of themselves, traveling together by car among historic sites, dining in fine restaurants, and filing journalistic dispatches. This cursory pretext affords bonding by way of taking the piss, impersonating better-known Brits (and some Americans) whose fame they envy and admire, and brooding on—while also inevitably exacerbating—the shortcomings of their own professional and personal lives.
Winterbottom won’t be described as woke anytime soon, but his manner here is assuredly brisk. (Coogan, insisting he’s in his prime: “There’s a lot of gender swapping going on now in big roles. I could play Miss Jean Brodie.”) Meditation on aging and actorly narcissism can be a delicate art, particularly when involving that now forlornly unfashionable creature, the midlife heterosexual white man, unheroic after all and adrift in his privilege. Helpfully, maybe, the Coogan and Brydon characters hail from a long cultural line of tensely symbiotic twosomes: not just Quixote and Panza, but Laurel and Hardy, or Vladimir and Estragon, or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Or Scylla and Charybdis? Take your pick.
“You can’t have everything,” the men lament to each other over mouthfuls of fresh anchovies midway through their latest excursion. Then the discussion about having children later in life leads to dueling Mick Jagger impressions, which in turn leads to impressions of Mick Jagger doing an impression of their dueling Michael Caine impressions. Later, stakes rise as Winterbottom holds us hostage to some passive-aggressive brinksmanship between Coogan mansplaining about the Moors and Brydon impersonating Roger Moore. Like the luxe entrées presented to them throughout the journey, the whole scenario is at once delectable and ludicrously overwrought; it takes a certain frame of mind, but once in it you really can eat this stuff up.
How much longer it can go on is the higher-level question. Already it’s gone on longer than may be readily apparent—since even before the first Trip. Brydon showed up as a tactically occasional Coogan foil in Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People, in 2002, and then their vanity-joust coalesced as a through-line in his Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, in 2005. In fact, it’s in Winterbottom’s aptly deconstructive riff on Laurence Sterne’s self-referential novel that we first heard Coogan approvingly describe Cervantes’ self-referential novel, as “post-modern before there was even a modern to be post of.” Though the Trip series boldly has veered into meta-abstraction, stripping away the encumbrance of a literary framework, there is something fitting about it all coming back to Don Quixote—a Cervantean idea that sometimes travel may be a manner of evasion, but then so parody may be a manner of purity.
Condensed into films from episodic TV shows, the Trip franchise is by now unabashedly a commercial calculation—saturated, albeit very drily, with self-awareness as regards the going through of motions. Though lauded by BAFTA in the comedy categories, the series over time has come to assume a tragic attitude. “Don’t you think everything’s melancholic once you get to a certain age?” Brydon had asked very sincerely back in Italy, and here in Spain awaits a purgatory of repeated confirmation. Even a jag of David Bowie singing to himself about deciding to follow Brydon on Twitter is as least as mournful as it is funny. And what is mortality, after all, if not the expression of an enjoyable premise proving itself unsustainable? The persistence of Winterbottom’s longitudinal Coogan-Brydon study becomes all the more affecting for its risk of wearing out an already dubious welcome. If not as wistfully evocative as a Richard Linklater project, or as bracing as one of Michael Apted’s mathematically recurrent sociologies, it will at least maintain the virtue of being genuinely quixotic.

August 13 2017

Coffee Break

Diary of a Nymphomaniac.jpg
Belen Fabra and Judith Diakhate in Diary of a Nymphomaniac (Christian Molina - 2008)

August 12 2017

Welcome to Hell: Close-Up on Camilo Restrepo's "Impression of a War"

Close-Up is a feature that spotlights films now playing on MUBI. Camilo Restrepo's Impression of a War (2015), is showing from August 10 - September 9, 2017 in most countries around the world as part of our Direct from Locarno series
“Why, why, why!” screamed a woman as she tore at the twisted and charred wreckage of a car in the hope of finding the body of her young daughter, whom she had left inside. The force of the blast hurled the remains of the vehicle into the front of a furniture store.
The New York Times, April 16, 1993
In any event, ordinary Colombians celebrated the tenth anniversary of the slaying of their most famous billionaire criminal with little optimism that the car-bombings would ever cease. While the Colombian army and rightwing militia persist in murdering trade unionists, oppositional journalists, and leaders of the legal Left, the corrupted guerillas of [the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia] defiantly maintain Escobar’s war without pity on the wives and children of the oligarchy.
—Mike Davis, Buda’s Wagon
Camilo Restrepo’s Impression of a War is, necessarily, an incomplete picture. How, but how, could one film encompass the myriad political forces, cultural currents, social tensions and historical factors that have undergirded Colombia’s notoriously endemic violence over the last 70 years? Setting aside roots (anti-leftist American imperialism), figure the consequences: in 2013, a 434-page report—the outcome of research undertaken by the country’s National Center for Historical Memory—reckoned that nearly a quarter of a million people had been killed in Colombia since 1958. A staggering four fifths of the victims were civilian noncombatants.
Brevity is brutal. Across a mere 27 minutes, Restrepo traces lineages—banal scraps of an extraordinarily complex and ongoing civil conflict—and accumulates something resembling a personal, essayistic foray into his country’s heartache. In particular, the filmmaker—with co-scribe Sophie Zuber—frames the war through a pictorial recent history of Medellín, the city where he was born in 1975, and where Pablo Escobar was killed on December 2, 1993. Escobar, born in nearby Rionegro in 1949—less than a year after the assassination of populist Liberal leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, whose death is commonly cited as the catalyst for the subsequent conflict—had amassed, as the head of the Medellín drugs cartel, $30 billion by the early 1990s. At its peak, the Medellín cartel was trafficking 15 tons of cocaine into the United States per day; its income was $70 million per day. As a 1988 TIME article put it: "Welcome to Medellín, coke capital of the world."
As its title suggests, Impression of a War trades in fragments. Its power is associative: a film about violence in Colombia’s second city has to be, by its nature, a film about everything. And so Restrepo constellates and delineates: from within. His opening title card, in which the typeface is only faintly recognizable, is highly appropriate: look closer, squint the eyes. Feedback from an electric guitar fills the soundtrack: makes itself heard, screechingly, like the lingering result of a single human action. This is a film about finding ways of seeing, even (and especially) when the process of doing so is dreadfully painful.
Impression of a War
Violence, all-enveloping, is a centrifugal force. At the outset, onscreen text notes that the outlines of Colombia’s catastrophic civil war “have grown hazy”: its actors, the agencies by which murder has become normalized (in addition to rape, torture, kidnap), include guerillas, drug traffickers, military and paramilitary forces, and mafia-style gangs. Soon after, in the kind of hushed, contemplative voiceover that only heightens the awfulness to which his words refer (and as a counterpoint to the intense energies of Medellín punk artist Fertil Miseria), the filmmaker takes a common attitude about the country’s mainstream press at face value: if, as popular thought suggests, the national newspapers are void of content, might we then get to grips with what has happened in Colombia in the last seven decades by weighing the pulped mass of such an insight-free output? To pose it in different terms: what does a war weigh, how does a war feel, what form does a war take?
In war, the medium is the message. Impression becomes a film about the materiality of things: the printing press (and the surplus dyes that transform the Medellín River into what looks like a literal watercourse of blood); the yellow paint with which the city’s fleet of taxicabs was once painted (to Escobar’s apparent strategic advantage); and autonomies of flesh (tattoos, scarification, a kind of autoethnography by permanent disfigurement). Amidst cultural amnesia—and the blinding fog, no doubt, of war—such practices are interpreted by Restrepo as “struggles against oblivion”. Wounds are embedded: painted over, assimilated.
Later, Restrepo’s quietly robust voiceover explains the territorial rules of engagement that have come to define certain sections of this urban hell, even while his camera, filming sideways from the passenger seat of a car, denies any stable viewpoint from which to glean a clear picture—much in the same way that the very rules imposed onto such terrain, by the fractured gangs that emerged in the wake of Escobar’s death, defy comprehension in the first place. Defiance, we’re told, equals death­—regardless of age or gender. Again, quietly, Restrepo points to the counter-struggle: to Toke de Salida, the pacifist organization that goes about its business without fuss, contravening markers of territory by plastering flyers to posts in protest.
At the Hotel Punchiná in San Carlos, we learn, the walls bear traces of cruelty and torture—and the garden has skeletal remains out back. Enter Pastora Mira Garcia, the coordinator of an organization campaigning for reconciliation and reparation on behalf of the families of the victims killed there. The building, a haunted shell, has what the film calls “palimpsest walls,” which grieving relatives of lost loves are encouraged to confront and repurpose. Creation as catharsis: “They draw their meaning from what they are able to cover.” As the irreparable blemishes of his grainy 16mm footage imprint their own scars onto the image, Restrepo’s film—searching, excellent—is both a document of these struggles against oblivion, as well as a contribution to them.
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