Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Power of Pop

As featured in The Seventh Continent.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness.

David Huth, I love you, for frantically driving around town in an attempt at preventing me from doing something that I would never ever do. All I wanted to do was end Granfalloons, not myself. I was foolish and brazen, not suicidal.

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Right or wrong, Budd Dwyer, I pray for your soul.

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It's true, suicide fascinates me, but the act itself is not for me, except metaphorically insofar as I've adopted it to understand any act of Christian corporal mortification.

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untitled

self
murder only happens once
except you die to death
given in the blood
die daily, daily die saith
the minister of life kill
self


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I know this probably bothers Brandon and many others, but here it is...

*I trust Michael Haneke*

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The Seventh Continent was Haneke's first feature film. It was screened at Cannes, gaining him a broader audience than his native Austria. The Seventh Continent is particularly "about" a middle class Austrian family living a normal late 20th century middle class Austrian life. In its particulars, it speaks broadly (I don't quite dare say "universally") to a human condition prevalent in modern affluent countries.

Anomie.

Really, The Seventh Continent is "about" me. It may be about you.

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What to make of a film that reveals so little of itself? One might first turn to the director. In interviews, Haneke has in turn emphasised his intention to leave the work of interpretation to the spectator: “I try to make anti-psychological films with characters who are less characters than projection surfaces for the sensibilities of the viewer; blank spaces force the spectator to bring his own thoughts and feelings to the film. Because that is what makes the viewer open for the sensitivity of the character.” Haneke, in other words, goes to extremes in withholding information in order to compel the spectator to “think with” and “feel with” the film, instead of simply consuming it.

It is this withholding of information that makes The Seventh Continent so hard to discuss with someone who hasn't seen it. Any descriptive phrases that I may use involve some interpretive act on my part. I found this out the hard way when I tried to talk about the movie with Pete on the way back from Crocodile Lyle's.

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I can't remember who wrote it, but somewhere I remember reading that all film criticism is really just autobiography. This is much more the case with Haneke's films. Unless I stick closely to technical details, there is nothing that I can write about The Seventh Continent that won't reveal more about myself than the film. So, I won't even try.

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Often, I recognize death and disconnectedness within myself. I'm among the world and people and communities that surround me, but feel apart from them at the same time. I don't know how to feel properly. I can go through the motions of human connections, but I seldom feel connected. I'm disconnected from People.

I mentally assent to the idea of a sunset being beautiful (or any number of natural wonders), but experiencing a sunset doesn't move me or strike me with awe. I'm disconnected from Nature.

Any professional work that I can contemplate being involved in and qualified for seems worthless and empty to me. I'm disconnected from Meaningful Tasks.

I'm unhappy in Faith. I have none. But, I act as I do. Because otherwise I might cease to act.

I fail in relationships (I withdraw or pretend). I want to respect Nature (but I'm happier in a dark Cinema). I want work that provides me with meaning (I settle for finding some sort of spark in shared suffering). There is no solace for me in Faith or in Doubt (To you I call, O LORD my Rock; do not turn a deaf ear to me. For if you remain silent, I will be like those who have gone down to the pit.)

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It is no accident that Autism is one of the chief plagues of our time.

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Herzog said, "Somehow I know the hearts of men."

Somehow, Haneke knows my heart, dark as it is.

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Abigail, after watching much of the middle to end of The Seventh Continent noted that Haneke's art and vision are "unbalanced."

Fair enough, but I share in this imbalance.

And I think that, deep down, Haneke is (or is at the very least always striving to maybe be) a humanist. At least, that's what I'm projecting on him at the moment because that's what I'm striving for.

Haneke is not a nihilist. I know this because he rejects the suicides of his protagonists. I know this because of the very real fact that Haneke keeps on living and creating.

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I don't know how to live or why to live (I have a head full of facts that I assent to, but my heart is cold), but I, too, daily choose to live. And I do what I can to act alive and to pass as one of the living. But, still, I have this nagging feeling that I'm one among many walking dead.

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For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness.

The repeated imagery of purification and cleansing further reflect the characters' figurative attempts to transcend the banality of their existence: the car wash, the episodes of George bathing, the rainstorm that pervades the second chapter (1988) of the film. Ironically, as the Schober family collectively strives to shed their empty and meaningless lives, they retreat further into the void of oblivion - disconnected from the physical reality of their oppressive environment - towards the isolating landscape of the indefinable seventh continent.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

According to Wikiquote, the following has been attributed to Roger Ebert:

"There are two things you can't argue in film: comedy and eroticism. If something doesn't make you laugh, no one can tell you why it's funny, and it's difficult to reason someone out of an erection."

Laughter is as strange a behavior as anything else and I don't understand it. But, I laugh.


I enjoyed Hot Fuzz. I appreciated the cleverness of its homage to every action and buddy cop movie that came before it. But, I didn't laugh much. I was disappointed because it was funny, but not uproariously funny. Part of this is surely just me not particularly caring too much for or about the buddy cop genre. Part of it is that I think that Hot Fuzz tried too hard at times. It seemed like the frame would pause to give us, the audience, just enough time to laugh before going on to the next bit. The set-ups for laughs were there, but I didn't laugh. I smiled, but then started wincing because I felt guilty that I didn't think the movie was as funny as it was trying to be. Still, it earned plenty of small laughs and smiles from me.


We watched all six episodes of Season 1 of The Office in one sitting.

If there's a better sitcom out there at the moment, please write to me and let me know. Before Sister Sarah let us borrow Season 1 while down in Old Mauch Chunk, I had only seen a few scattered episodes, mostly at B'eckley's apartment, probably while "studying" library stuff.

Yes, The Office is funny. Again, though, lots of smiles and few belly laughs.

What impressed me most was the lack of any explanation for the documentary style. It's a nice conceit that allows for some clever communication of information, including the neat effect of having characters speak directly to the audience without any really jarring feeling of fourth wall smashing going on.


Not many people know this anymore, but Danny DeVito is funny. At least, he was funny.

Throw Momma From the Train
was his debut as a feature film director (after some TV work). The directing is all functional, lots of traditional shot/reverse shot patterns, allowing the script room to breathe, to be acted out perfectly. There are also some "action" scenes that are shot cleanly, always highlighting the humor. DeVito understands comedy, both appropriate timing and allowing his actors (including himself) free reign to let the jokes roll around naturally, both through the words spoken and plenty of slapstick physicality. Anne Ramsey shouts her way gloriously to an Academy Award nomination while DeVito and Crystal run circles around one another with one great line after another, all leading up to a hilarious climax and a sweet dénouement.

I've seen Throw Momma several times (a bunch of which were when I was but a wee lad) and I still can't help myself from wheezing because I'm laughing so hard I can't breathe.

Murder probably shouldn't be funny, but laughing makes it so.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

While I'm Working

New Student Film Society is a promising new film group in the Binghamton area. The first film chosen, Force of Evil, is one of my favorites (I can't remember, Brandon, was it part of film club?), but Seth told me that no one showed up for it. Last week's pick was a controversial horror film, so I'm willing to bet that it got at least a few people to show up.

This week's pick is a little-known Sam Fuller film, Underworld USA, which, sure enough, I know very little about.

If you're free Friday night and in the Binghamton area, there's no reason not to go (unless maybe you're driving out to Cornell to catch Still Life).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Essential Listening

It's hard having a film blog when you don't watch any films.

Ignore me and enjoy listening to Rosenbaum.

Jonathan Rosenbaum on Chicago Public Radio - Essential Cinema.

[HT: The Daily]

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My Girls

Before I left for Niagara, I bought the new Animal Collective album, then I listened to it a lot while driving. It is the best album, without a doubt, that I'll hear all year. I've listened to it about a half a dozen times now and while that's still not enough to be able to proclaim it a masterpiece, I still think it is a masterpiece.

As Brandon pointed out before I realized it, "My Girls" will most likely be my anthem for the rest of the year.

Is it much that I feel I need
A solid soul and the blood I bleed
With a little girl, and by my spouse
I only want a proper house

I don't care for fancy things
Or to take part in a precious race
And children cry for the one who has
A real big heart and a father's grace

I don't mean to seem like I care about material things like a social status
I just want four walls and adobe slabs for my girls


Monday, February 9, 2009

Pushing Wood Bits Around.

I haven't watched a movie since The Wrestler on 1/31 (unless you want to count the one episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold that I watched at work on Feb. 3rd - "Terror on Dinosaur Island!" I thought it was good fun and was surprised by how well it worked. While Marvel is king of the live action superhero movie, DC has owned the animated side of things for something like 15 years now).

Why haven't I watched anything?

I needed a break from motion pictures after heavy viewing in January.

I spent the past 4 days doing very little besides playing games.

Yup, I was at Niagara Boardgaming Weekend. Read my report here: http://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/39504

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So far, I've done really well at keeping to my commitment to writing a little something about everything that I watch this year..

Here are a few that fell through the cracks.

1 film. Paul Blart: Mall Cop. I had to go see this one for work. All I can say is that it's not quite as bad as most of the critics want it to be. The movie is basically a loser's fantasy that works out along the lines that I spoke of regarding Kit Kitteredge. Grown-up movies should offer more than this for grown-ups, but I suppose some grown-ups still need childish comforts.

3 episodes of Lost.
"Because You Left" - As good as a season premiere can get.
"The Lie" - Lots of Hurley goodness. This is why we all watch Lost.
"Jughead" - No-nonsense plot development with Desmond playing a key role away from the island.

Lost is as good as, if not better than, it has ever been. There have been good posts at The House Next Door. I can't do any better, so go there and read.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

No man's an Island, except for Island man; he's a ROCK!

(Warning -for Abby's sake- the following song contains some "bad" language. I'm posting it here because I think that it complements The Island well. And because rhymes are good for you. And Sage Francis can drop rhymes like you can't.)



The Island has received the approval of Patriarch Alexei II. Sage Francis has not.

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1942. Two Russian soldiers hide in heaps of rubble when a German ship discovers their boat off an island in Northern Russia. The Germans find one of the Russians and they beat him until he reveals the location of his peer. After token resistance, he breaks and betrays his comrade.

The two Russians are then lined up against a wall to be shot. The first, already clearly seen to be a coward, drops to his knees and begs to be spared. The second calmly and cooly lights a cigarette.

The German officer in charge walks over the two and hands his pistol to the coward, commanding him to shoot his comrade. The coward protests, but the officer pulls and twists on his ear while commanding him repeatedly to shoot.

The man shoots. His comrade, shot, falls lifeless into the water behind and below the wall.

The Germans then leave as quickly and efficiently as they appeared, leaving the coward behind, alone and alive, left to be found by a group of Orthodox monks.

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The main story of The Island takes place 34 years laters in 1976. Father Anatoly is a prophet, a priest, and a prankster. He is sought after as a miracle worker by some, shunned as a fool by others. In fact, he's one in a long Russian tradition of holy fools. Others in the film are reconciled, to God and to each other, through his humility and through his humiliation.

Go on. Watch it now. I recommend it for everyone.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

bless us wrestler for you have sinned.

(yes, that title is an inside joke.)

I keep thinking about The Wrestler. I do strongly dislike the film, partly because of what I view as exploitative sex/violence (just because wrestling and stripping are built upon premises of exploitation doesn't mean that Aronofsky's film has to be) and partly because of the "sacrificial ram" bit. I can't help but view The Wrestler as being about Redemptive Suffering, but I don't buy this premise or its conclusion.

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If you haven't yet, please read Barthes' essay:
The World of Wrestling

Wrestlers, who are very experienced, know perfectly how to direct the spontaneous episodes of the fight so as to make them conform to the image which the public has of the great legendary themes of its mythology. A wrestler can irritate or disgust, he never disappoints, for he always accomplishes completely, by a progressive solidification of signs, what the public expects of him. In wrestling, nothing exists except in the absolute, there is no symbol, no allusion, everything is presented exhaustively. Leaving nothing in the shade, each action discards all parasitic meanings and ceremonially offers to the public a pure and full signification, rounded like Nature. This grandiloquence is nothing but the popular and age-old image of the perfect intelligibility of reality. What is portrayed by wrestling is therefore an ideal understanding of things; it is the euphoria of men raised for a while above the constitutive ambiguity of everyday situations and placed before the panoramic view of a universal Nature, in which signs at last correspond to causes, without obstacle, without evasion, without contradiction.

When the hero or the villain of the drama, the man who was seen a few minutes earlier possessed by moral rage, magnified into a sort of metaphysical sign, leaves the wrestling hall, impassive, anonymous, carrying a small suitcase and arm-in-arm with his wife, no one can doubt that wrestling holds the power of transmutation which is common to the Spectacle and to Religious Worship. In the ring, and even in the depths of their voluntary ignominy, wrestlers remain gods because they are, for a few moments, the key which opens Nature, the pure gesture which separates Good from Evil, and unveils the form of a Justice which is at last intelligible.


I just noticed, too, that the collection Mythologies also contains an essay on Striptease. The collection is available to be read online here.

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Suddenly remembering that the Arts and Faith forum exists, I decided to check out the Arts and Faith thread for The Wrestler. I'm always forgetting that those forums exist. I really should participate.

It was through the thread on that forum, that I discovered the following two posts:

For our sins he was pinned: Salvation in The Wrestler

Film - Think: The Wrestler

M. Leary writes, "I just don’t understand how a character as perfectly conceived and richly performed as Ram is allowed to exit the film in a vapor of Aronofsky flair."

I think that it's the ending more than anything else that provides me with my primary dissatisfaction, but I do think that the ending serves a purpose beyond its existence as a stylistic choice, an "Aronofsky flair."

Randy achieves immortality through his dedication to his religion.

The last shot is pretty great, holding on the empty space in the air instead of following Randy's jump or cutting to its completion on the floor. We get to see our hero faithfully execute his ram one last time, instead of something like a shot of Randy falling on his face, then being transported out on a stretcher into an ambulance. He may die. Or he may live on life support or live and recover and constantly relive his great finale with the Ayatollah. We don't get that. We get a moment of glory prolonged forever. And maybe that's Randy's last conscious experience. But I feel cheated. Because the shot that we do get reinforces every last notion of Wrestling as redemptive for Randy as he struggles through his suffering on behalf of his chosen community, who love him because he suffers for them. And perhaps because of all of the crap in the Barthes essay.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Harpur

Mickey posted the complete lineup for spring 2009.

Feburary 19th and 22nd
I Served the King of England
(2006, Director: JirĂ­ Menzel, Czech Republic/Slovakia 120min.)

February 26th and March 1st
My Father, My Lord
(2007, Director: David Volach, Israel, 72min.)

March 5th and 8th
Dust
(2007, Director: Hartmut Bitomsky, Germany, 90min.)

March 12th and 15th
Wonderful Town
(2007, Director: Aditya Assarat, Thailand, 92min.)

March 19th and 22nd
In Search of a Midnight Kiss
(2007, Director: Alex Holdridge, USA, 90min)

March 26th and 29th
Momma's Man
(2008, Director: Azazel Jacobs, USA, 94min.)

April 23rd and 26th
Shadows
(1959, Director: John Cassavetes, USA, 87min.)

April 30th and May 3rd
The Lionshare
(2008, Director: Josh Bernhard, USA)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Bare Reflections on The Wrestler


[To start, here's a link to a post, about nudity and motion pictures, from my old blog: Co-ed Naked Blogging]

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L – LIMITED ADULT AUDIENCE, FILMS WHOSE PROBLEMATIC CONTENT MANY ADULTS WOULD FIND TROUBLING.

This is an extremely restrictive classification, suggesting a far narrower allowance than may sometimes be realized, and therefore excluding even most adult viewers


As a follow-up to my Japon post and comments, I just noticed that the USCCB (Office for Film and Broadcasting) gave The Wrestler an 'L' rating for "Strong sexual content, including graphic nonmarital sexual activity, some nudity, brutal wrestling scenes, drug abuse, pervasive rough and much crude language, and some uses of profanity."

That "strong sexual content" includes, among other romps, a full lap dance that won't leave you imagining what goes on inside of strip clubs. From the standpoint of representing sexuality onscreen, this is at least as offensive as the nudity that occurs in Japon, if not more so because none of the sex/nudity in Japon is at all glamorous or "sexy."

Besides the nudity in Japon, the subtle attacks on the Church may be offensive, but I would argue that Japon features a redemptive element stronger than The Wrestler (and that Japon can possibly be read in a kinder spiritual light than I gave it credit for). I think that it could even be argued that The Wrestler strongly mocks the Faith by presenting Randy the Ram explicitly as a "Suffering Servant," seen most clearly when Tomei's character compares Randy to Christ suffering in The Passion of the Christ and again during his final bout in the ring. To be clear and state things bluntly in this short comparison/contrast post that I'm writing here, I found The Wrestler to be the more offensive film.

But, it, too, had moments of heart-breaking (if sometimes contrived) truth about broken relationships and broken people. It roared where Japon whispered.

For Elder Ralph, I have to say that I respectfully disagree with John Armstrong's view of the movie. I don't think that he adequately accounts for (or even understands) the moral bankruptcy of this film. And he does his (mostly conservative, I'm sure) readers a disservice by not mentioning things like that shot of Randy "ramming" a half-naked woman in a public restroom. I'd have to agree with the USCCB's conclusions over Armstrong's. This movie should not be seen, even by most adults.

Yes, I guess that makes me a prude. And probably even a hypocrite for having sat through the movie. But I have to agree that, in theory at least, I did not need to see this film. And I think it did me more harm than good. But, at least I can be here now telling you why I think you shouldn't see it.

You may disagree. You may see it anyhow. I understand and respect that decision.

I could easily paraphrase the USCCB's review of The Wrestler to have it describe Japon.

Director Darren Aronofsky's study of loneliness, set in a landscape of trailer parks and strip malls, is unsparing in its portrayal of the titular sport, the sadistic impulses of its fans, and the demeaning sexuality of the strip club where the protagonist unwinds, but the drama's artistic intent and achievement are clear, as are the fundamentally decent aspirations of the troubled man at its core.

From a purely artistic (and I might even argue moral) standpoint, Japon is the better movie by a mile.

But I still don't blame any of you for never seeing it.

To Scott and any others, I'm curious. What is your limit for morally objectionable material? Would you "never ever" see The Wrestler?

I respect anyone who stays away.

I guess my own stance is that I feel like I can't keep myself from wading in this dirty world and its dirty art, so I might as well slow down, take a look around, and try to find the gems that may have been tossed out with the trash. There is a wealth of riches out here that just needs to be picked up and given a good scrubbing. At the same time, I'm well aware that I run the huge risk of being soiled myself out here.

Just to keep the fun rolling, the USCCB (Office for Film and Broadcasting) also gave Gran Torino an 'L' rating, which I agree is appropriate. I also stand by my prior assertion that Eastwood's melodrama may not be the strongest film narrative of the year, but it is the year's strongest (and yes, most obvious) filmic gospel parable.

This is why I watch 'L' movies, because sometimes they knock your socks off.

So, again, to all, what is your limit for morally objectionable material? Would you "never ever" see Gran Torino?

Obviously, I consider myself part of the "far narrower allowance" of the Limited audience, but only because I already find myself here. Still, most of these movies do me no favors. I yearn for more A-1 General Patronage films, but quality ones are few and far between. I'd either have to disengage and live exclusively in the glorious past of the Hays Code or I'd have to settle for the mediocre "family friendly" fluff that is being produced today, in which case I'd rather just stop watching movies.

"Wrestling" with these categories may seem foolish to some, but I can't help it. For better or for worse, it's how I think about movies.

After writing and saving all of this, I went off and read some reviews. It seems like Kenneth Turan is the only big name who has given the movie a bad review so far. Many of the other reviews forgive too much because they're so enamored by Mickey Rourke's performance.

I need to thank J Hoberman for mentioning Roland Barthes' essay The World of Wrestling. Wow.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Mamet Double Feature

Abigail was tired and wanted to go to sleep, but wouldn't go up to bed. So, of course, I decided to "punish" her by putting on House of Games. I knew she wouldn't be able to fall asleep after just 15 minutes of Mamet rattling around in her head.

Not only did she not fall asleep, but she couldn't leave when, after House of Games ended, I immediately switched discs, turning on Redbelt. She finished it and I was the one who fell asleep three quarters of the way in.

I first saw House of Games sometime in the early '90s. I'm not sure if it was on HBO (cable soiled my imagination) or if I rented it from Star Video. Whatever the source, it blew my mind. I forget what Hitchcock film it was, but I remember reading that the audience left confused and angry because they felt like Hitchcock had used images to lie to the audience (something to do with a flashback scene that proved to be false within the story). That's how House of Games will make you feel. I can't even write about it without discussing spoilers.

SPOILER: PLEASE JUST STOP READING NOW IF YOU EVER INTEND TO SEE HOUSE OF GAMES. I MEAN IT.
Thinking about it now, I think that the "revenge" conclusion is so appropriate, really perfect. I always thought of it as this sinister amoral conclusion, but I think now that it's a way of providing the audience relief. By that point in the film, the audience feels much the same way that Margaret does. "You've taken me under false pretenses" or something like that. All of our typical narrative satisfactions have been stripped away from us and we realize that we've been deceived, used and abused. At this point, we can either marvel at Mamet's skill at so perfectly enacting a con game or we can become irate that we've been deceived. Either way, we get the satisfaction of seeing Mamet's stand-in, the Mantegna character, die a horrible death. Even here, though, it's interesting that Mantegna's character is unrepentant and goes down cursing us.

Redbelt disappointed me a bit (just a bit) this second viewing. I just don't think that I buy the elaborate set-up. I still love the ending. And Chiwetel Ejiofor is someone to watch.