Saturday, October 29, 2005

In the Year of the Pig - Emil DeAntonio

I just finished reviewing this film for work. My words will ultimately appear on this page, accompanied by a reasonable price for an excellent documentary. I happened upon this conversation with DeAntonio, who is a Scranton, PA native, and it gives greater insight into DeAntonio as a political figure/person of interest and an artist. That article complements very nicely the commentary DeAntonio provides in the film.

Another well known DeAntonio film, Point of Order, documenting the McCarthy hearings, is also available on Home Vision Entertainment.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

At The Movies

There's so much to go out and see. Pardon the temporary interruption. We'll be back soon, with a new design and so on. Prepare to update your links and bookmarks!

What we're trying to see before it goes out of theaters - Corpse Bride and Elevator to the Gallows.
Good Night and Good Luck, History of Violence, Capote and many others are on the schedule.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

North Country

It starts out where Five Easy Pieces leaves off; you can practically see Nicholson jumping into that logging rig at the gas station as Theron pulls in to fill up. Every ensuing cut invites comparisons to America's early Seventies New Wave, the expectation being that the oil derricks would be replaced with another landscape right out of Bernd and Hilla Becher's imagination: the modern mining complex with its gargantuan, noisy machinery and the cratered wasteland it creates. The impersonal, industrial vista, frozen like space, creates a harsh background to a bleak story of brutal misogyny and domestic violence.

These traits hold for the first third of the film. The cuts are quick and the camera never lingers, except for a few beautiful, towering crane and helicopter shots across the mining factory and its surrounding quarries. Charlize Theron comes off as a believably beautiful Minnesotan, never exaggerating an accent she hasn't quite mastered, or attempt some untenable level of working class authenticity. There's an absurd naturalism about her character as she develops a political consciousness, an observant naive. The representations of the work itself are unsettling and painful; the women in the cast, led by Frances McDormand as a union rep and truck driver, lend themselves to cultivating a culture of work and home that's entirely believable in much the same way Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska is ghoulish and real. Unfortunately the entire film isn't staged at the mine, in the home, or at the bar.

To the film's credit, it isn't simply the unencumbered, Updikean fantasy land of Five Easy Pieces where the man is somehow the real victim and the woman is a sexless harpy determined to anchor him at home with his family. Nor does this keep the film from taking on deeply existential qualities; one might argue that films about work and prison are probably more "existential" than those of aimless ennui. Although this aspect is muted and ultimately deleted by the courtroom drama unfolding behind each of these flashbacks, it's worth noting that it provides ample opportunity for a fantastic cast to exercise gritty dramas in the home and workplace. However, as the past reaches the present, the film looses it's seamlessness between now and then. Unlike The Sweet Hereafter, the legal drama isn't personal in quite the same way in terms of detachment and loss, and it emerges as a jarring eruption in an otherwise gripping story.

Maybe that's the Hollywood stranglehold at work. Is it possible that even stories that have audiences applauding progressive politics and small novelists are indelibly compromised by their adaptations? Characters like Bill White are just cowboys in white hats and these sorts of paternalistic, even when well-intentioned, progressive and sensitive Gary Coopers come off like chauvinists in spite of themselves. As the film winds down and the conclusion becomes obvious, the sheer momentum is obnoxious and insulting to even sympathetic sensibilities. There's still something not quite right about these message/issue pictures even if they're maybe as close to the genuine article (a reification and bit of wish-fulfillment if I've ever formulated any) as it gets? If that's true, then maybe the artistry that's been heralded in big budget productions has been dramatically overstated.

The sense of film history exhibited in North Country comes as a stinging indictment of its pat conclusion and mechanical progress. There's a real story to be told, but this wasn't it. The story's more in the struggle and less in the temporary and hermetic "victories" presented.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection

I'll be working on this all winter. My partner loves Hitchcock and I've never had an excuse to get anything like this for her. Needless to say, this is the first "toy truck" gift that genuinely surprised and thrilled her. She was expecting the new Cinderella on DVD, and she'll get it, but this was easily where the smart money's going for belated birthdays, two month "anniversaries," and holidays alike.

The link has all the details, but they're worth reiterating - 14 movies plus a documentary disc.

Other film-related items this week: North Country pre-screening tomorrow night and a review of Emile de Antonio's In the Year of the Pig.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Back To The Future: 2046

A few belated notes about Wong Kar-Wai's flawed sequel to In the Mood for Love are forthcoming. Let me amplify this statement with a conditional phrase: from a lesser filmmaker, this would be a landmark accomplishment, but from a renowned perfectionist like Kar-Wai who reportedly edited and re-edited the film until moments before it screened at Cannes last year it's something of a disappointment.

That's a damning preface, isn't it? There are some stories where any sequel will fail, and for me, this proved one of them. In the Mood for Love had an open-ended sadness that was penetrating, poignant and perfect. That Wong Kar-Wai was so arrogant to believe that we'd care about any other relationship is folly; more arrogant was carrying it out. Sure, it's like In the Mood for Love in terms colors and mis-en-scene, but those inexplicable elements of longing and courage and boundless love are replaced with a wardrobe of deadend lust and confusion.

Yeah, so he didn't repeat or better his meisterwerk, so what? And he made the films simultaneously so it was perhaps more difficult to get perspective on 2046 while In the Mood for Love stole his focus. Where In the Mood for Love was subtle and torturously existential in sentiment and tone, 2046 is rash and absurd. Philip K. Dick didn't write The Unbearable Lightness of Being and there's a rational explanation for that somewhere I'm sure, separate from the fact that Dick wasn't part of the Velvet Revolution and that Kundera didn't get caught up in sci-fi as a metaphor for passing time. While the kernel of a romantic/erotic idea of collaboration was there, the short story itself was too literal and Kar-Wai was too deeply possessed by the George Lucas moments in the film. It's forgiveable for a filmmaker to do uncharacteristic things - that's part of the film's appeal - but they should have a clearer narrative coherence without simply aping the plotline. Where's the pain and anguish of a man cuckolded, who turns to another woman for love?

If we're tracing the story of a man traveling backwards from 2046, freezing on Jules Verne's railway in a sci-fi North by Northwest, then shouldn't more effort be dedicated to creating the feeling of time passing on the train, or was it meant to be thought of as an infinite and eternal journey, the closest analogue to that fevered longing Chow feels in In the Mood? I guess what we're left with is a damaged playboy, still vulnerable after being scorned, still lonely for wanting too much. Chow still wants too much, but the film, like his character, is aimless and the only thing guiding his life, is the passing of time. Thus imprisoned, Chow's so-called vulnerability seems a pathetic and hackneyed ruse used solely to take advantage of lonely people like himself. Unable to share his innermost feelings, he whispers them into holes in trees, covers those holes with mud and drinks to forget himself.