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The Ultimate Date Movie

Amour (2012), written and directed by Michael Haneke — You are sitting at breakfast with your partner of fifty or so years and suddenly notice she is staring blankly not at you (perhaps nothing new) and then her cereal begins to dribble from the corner of her mouth. A stream of urine runs down the chair leg to the floor. You speak, even loudly, but there is no response. Death has come to join you for breakfast, insinuating itself between your tea and the morning news, interrupting the habitual comfort of daily routine. This death is not violent or abrupt, it is like a very long sonata which has begun and must play out. Michael Haneke approaches his aged couple, George and Anne (Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva) with … [Read more...]

Questioning “The Master”

There is no excuse, in 2012, for making a movie that looks bad. There are dozens of film schools churning out skilled technicians. Sub-standard acting is rare, too: the supply of dedicated, hard-working performers is huge and top talent routinely aces the most challenging roles. Miraculous special effects?  More common and less expensive every year. So, can we agree that a professional, skillful film is pretty much a given? But what about when we all too often say, semi-apologetically, “Well, it was beautifully shot,” or “The performances were great,” or “The effects were awesome!” Don’t we want more?  Don’t we prefer to say, “What a great story! I was on the edge of my seat!” Or, in the case of films with literary aspirations, “I … [Read more...]

A Breed Apart

Old Dog (2011), written and directed by Pema Tseden, produced by Zhang Xianmin  – Westerners hear very little about Tibet, and much of the media doesn’t even called it Tibet anymore, they call it China, for Tibet has been destroyed, eradicated and reshaped in the model of the typical imperially dominated country. To us who are unfamiliar with the current state of things in Tibet a film like Old Dog seems subtly coded—a narrative that depicts the disabling of the traditional nomadic way of life in terms that are archly metaphoric. That this film has a Chinese producer was a bit surprising, but Zhang Xianmin has an interesting and socially progressive record as intellectual, cultural critic and producer. Pema Tseden, a Tibetan, refers to … [Read more...]

Blowing Down The Barracks

THE INVISIBLE WAR (2012), directed by Kirby Dick, produced by Amy Ziering – With an aesthetic that is strategically subservient to its goal of creating policy change, The Invisible War's human drama rolls out in a perfectly calibrated series of emotional interviews of survivors of military sexual assault (MSA), their advocates and therapists.The antagonists, director Kirby Dick makes clear, are not the violent criminals masquerading as soldiers, officers or heroes; but the systemic judicial dysfunction of the nation's armed services, which manifests as stonewalling, intransigence and incompetence. The prologue to the film is a series of filmed recruitment ads aimed at women—presenting the public relations campaign the … [Read more...]

Dark Capital

Notes on Found (2012) Found, featuring the remarkable Peggy Blow and with cinematography by Jeffrey Atherton, completes a triptych that also includes Snout and Djinn. In these hybrid media piece we’re attempting to excavate a liminal, Bardo-type space in digital media to see what can happen there. I like the variety of the three pieces, but also the continuities between them, and how liminality shows up thematically in the texts as well as in the visual treatment. Found, for example, is interested in how permeable we are, how encounters with strangers can haunt and even alter us. Found also shines light on the resilience and forbearance of black Americans in the face of the profound structural racism that continues, demonically, to play … [Read more...]

The Considered Eye

An Interview with Experimental Filmmaker Ben Russell –  I first encountered Ben Russell’s films in Hollywood. He was screening some of his works at the venerable Egyptian Theater. As is often the case, with the long established Los Angeles Filmforum venue, you walk in without expectation and walk out energized, rearranged and reaffirmed. The films screened that evening were exceptional and the ideas and images had remained on my mind for several years. It was this longevity of memory that prompted me to talk with Ben about his work as an artist. His films push forward place and person with a fresh intelligent force. There is a quiet and ultra wide observation at work. Character, landscape, and action are given equal … [Read more...]

Heaven is in Your Eyes

Thinking about Lars Von Trier's Melancholia –  Behold the bride Justine, her name plucked from a novel by de Sade, her body bedecked in crinoline, lace, satin, and bone stiffeners. Her voluptuous skin pillows at the edges of her wedding garment, which squeezes her bosom tightly and blossoms open below the waist. She is a vision in white as she runs across the neatly cropped lawn, dragging ragged rope chains behind her. A cumbersome sort of froth envelopes her, marks her as special and sets her apart from the herd of onlookers, the wedding guests who watch, each regarding her with his/her own form of desire. To shun their desire, one after the other, is the project of Lars Von Trier's "melancholy" bride, played by Kirsten Dunst … [Read more...]

Becoming Planet

Melancholia, by Lars Von Trier, 2011 –  Far away among the stars a planet holds your image in its heart. You met on a summer night. A single glance was all it took. Later, in your dreams, your heart fatally divided, you beamed out a signal of erotic distress, a covert invitation. And now the planet is on its way, a wanderer, dark and brooding – a Hamlet-planet traveling a winding path toward you. The date has been set. Lying back naked on a bed of moss you wait and hope and pine, as luminous as Ophelia. Wagner, of course, loops in the background – the awe-struck Prelude to Tristan and Isolde. Your first and only embrace will be a Germanic dream - the ultimate Gesamtkunstwerk, a final all-totalizing work of art. You will not survive … [Read more...]

Djinn

About Djinn (2011) Close to a year ago I posted a longer dramatic monologue called Snout. I recall being anxious about deploying creative work in the TQ space, where I had been posting thought pieces on culture, but the experiment seemed interesting to readers, a welcome complication to the line of posts I had made. Djinn, presented below, is a companion piece to Snout and part of a triptych I expect to complete in the next few months. Djinn looks at the reductive power of a name, the trap of a name. The djinn in the piece is a trapped party girl, but also a deity figure - a djinn or genie. The element of nostalgic reflection in Djinn does make it seem like a fitting piece for this time of year, and I think its environmental themes … [Read more...]

Homies on the Range

Revisiting the World of EASY RIDER –  I vividly remember paying not a shred of attention to Easy Rider in 1969. Whatever it was about, it wasn't Ours, but was pretending to be. The idea of re-presenting the present out from under Us was still too new. It was a given that Hollywood wouldn't, couldn't ever "get it", that the portrayals of sixties youth culture would always fall flat. People from the Hollywood establishment were untrustworthy observers: too old, too embedded in cliché and conventionalism for even the best of intentions to salvage them. This went for movie stars too, even "hip" ones like Dennis Hopper, who was, at  34, trying to play a 20-something in this film. Nobody with the wherewithal to mass market, on … [Read more...]