Thursday, April 29, 2010

Adventures in sanctity.

I'm having difficulty figuring out how to write about My Night at Maud's.  I may just skip over it for now.

I have no difficulty writing about Eaten Alive.

Eaten Alive is the most depraved and reprehensible film I'm likely to subject myself to all year.  I'm unlikely to see the Human Centipede, Brandon, but it was fun hearing you talk about it and reading your post.

She-Wolf of London is still the worst film I'm likely to see all year. 

Eaten Alive is actually fairly well-crafted to deliver exactly all of the illicit thrills its title promises. 

I'm really trying hard to understand why anyone would enjoy or possibly benefit from the type of horror film represented by Eaten Alive and I just can't see any good here at all.  Horror fans, I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt here.  What's up with this?   

Eaten Alive is a string of episodes of different folks showing up at a country hotel and being fed to a crocodile.   

It's not necessarily the subject matter.  It's how it's handled.  Eaten Alive is an exploitation picture from start to finish.  The character of Judd is over-the-top (and honestly the entire film could be magnificent if the POV was with him through the film instead of straying off with so many other weak characters).  The women mostly exist to take their shirts off and the men are there to act like they deserve to be painfully murdered.  Then, there's a little girl who is there to simultaneously provide suspense and comfort because the audience knows that no filmmaker could get away with killing off a cute little kid.  The crocodile is there for comic relief, maybe? 

Hooper may show contempt toward middle-brow wankers.  He also shows contempt toward life and people in general.

Brandon, you wrote:
One thing that sets some of these films apart (Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre) is their utter lack of regard for middlebrow acceptance plunging us into the worst of humanity without any chance of hope or redemption.

There are at least two types of narrative nihilism.  And maybe they are distinguished more by tone than content.  Or maybe I'm just splitting hairs.  

Haneke's The Seventh Continent is representative of the one sort.  Eaten Alive is representative of the other.  Or better yet, to avoid accusations of arthouse pretensions, I'll suggest that Kaufman's Synechdoche, New York is in the tradition of Eaten Alive.  (And Synechdoche, New York is by far the more terrifying horror film of the two).  

Synechdoche, New York is essentially an exploitation film in which Kaufman is just as happy to torture individuals and have girls take their shirts off as Hooper is.  One could argue that Kaufman doesn't enjoy it as much, but I think he giggles a lot.  He's just as much about fulfilling his juvenile fantasies as Hooper is.      

Haneke's film is different.  There is no easy entrance into the film.  But once you have inserted yourself into the film's way of seeing, there is no way out except through systematic dismantling and a metaphorical self-murder.

Haneke follows the argument of modernism to its logical conclusion, suicide.  This is the only narrative satisfaction we can have when starting with certain assumptions about life.  

Hooper and Kaufman may want to plunge us into a world "without any chance of hope or redemption," but they ultimately puss out by letting the little girl live or by giving life a glimmer of meaning or satisfaction.  In a sense, they justify a way for themselves to remain in darkness and confusion while Haneke at least shows the end of darkness, which points toward the Light.

[Note: I'm really not arguing for how great Haneke is here.  I think that he's stuck in his own rut of condemnation and hasn't figured out how to positively affirm anything yet, but all of my judgments on Haneke need to be taken lightly since I've only seen The Seventh Continent and Funny Games US.]

Back to Eaten Alive.

There are a few moments of greatness that transcend the exploitation.  Scenes involving Judd, the hotel owner, alone and listening to country music, come close to being great and emotionally honest.  There are a few times in which the gentle country music becomes a terrifyingly abstract and murderous background that is scarier than anything else in the film.  At times, the sound design is so close to brilliant that I'm angry that it was wasted on a film that I'll never watch again and can't really recommend to anyone for any reason.

[Note on ALL of the above:  I was just tossing out ideas and connections that popped into my mind.  Don't take any of it as reasoned, tested, or established analysis.  As always, I'm writing here to try to clarify my own thoughts, thinking anything out loud with the benefit of having a few readers/friends to possibly interact with and challenge my reactions.]

I needed something unambiguously life-affirming after the shifting moral sands of Maud's and the sinking quicksand of Eaten.  I found solid ground in Beat Street, a film that I know must inspire waves of happy nostalgia in those lucky enough to have seen it when they were young in the mid-80s.  

Alas, I was too young in the mid-80s (I was 5 when Beat Street was released in '84) and I missed Beat Street at the time.

Beat Street is a simple, straight-forward "follow your dreams" type of story.  What is great here is that mixing music, graffiti art, and breakdancing are all legitimized.  Illegally tagging trains may get you fried on the 3rd rail, but, sweet sadness, it's a better life and death than wearing a suit and crunching numbers.

There's an awesome Christmas concert sequence featuring a performance by The Treacherous Three that ranks high up there in any list of cinematic Christmas moments.

In the end, if Beat Street feels more like an after-school special than Linklater's Slacker, it can be forgiven.  It goes far in its own way to encourage dropout culture (specifically here hip-hop culture) as a valid and forceful alternative to the power structures that be.

Related to challenging power structures and tearing down strongholds, Trapped in Paradise is becoming cemented as one of my favorite films, raising in stature each time I watch it for two reasons:
1) It's funny
2) 1 Corinthians 1:27

It's a pretty perfect Christmas sermon if the congregation can excuse some harsh language.

Someday, in my fantasy world, I'll be showing a double feature of Blast of Silence and Trapped in Paradise on Christmas Eve in my little arthouse theatre in the woods.  See you there.

Finally, I watched Bujalski's 2005 film Mutual Appreciation, which in a way brings this entire post back around to My Night at Maud's.  There are the obvious reasons.  Both films have a lot of talk.  Both films have as their centerpiece a man and a woman spending a physically chaste night together and that night having emotional consequences.

Rohmer always seems to point toward something more true than any of his characters are currently feeling.  Even as they muddle about in their self-centered pettiness, there is a broader awareness that this is not all there is.  Bujalski stumbles over this in Mutual Appreciation and projects a more ambiguous acceptance of fleeting fidelity and interpersonal reckonings.  Maybe there's not something better than this.

I wonder how much Rohmer's early insistence on voiceover narration changes audience perceptions.  We're allowed to think with one person and see/hear/experience folly.  The lack of narration leaves things more ambiguous.

There are also some stylistic similarities.  Bujalski cuts more frequently than Rohmer, but both hold shots longer than others and favor medium shots that reveal two figures in the frame speaking with each other instead of a constant flow of cuts from speaking character to speaking character.  Most importantly, both make really compelling personal films on small budgets.

I'm impressed.  Bujalski is someone I'll be watching closely in the future.

Beeswax was a Bujalski film from last year that left a strong impression on me.  I dismissed it a bit at first even as I praised it, but it has totally stuck with me.  I've been thinking about re-doing my 2010 list now in the order that I'd most like to revisit the films of 2010.  Beeswax would easily place in the top 5.  Unfortunately, Redbox won't carry it and I'm still Netflix-deprived.

I forgot to post my last set of purchases from the last week that Hollywood Video on the hill was open.  Here's the list.

The end of binge discount shopping.
Hollywood Video -- 6 for $10

Audience of One (Jacobs)
Interkosmos (Finn)
Carnage (Glieze)
Lulu on the Bridge (Auster)
The Man Without a Past (Kaurismaki)
Gunslinger's Revenge (Veronesi)
The Work of Director Stephane Sednaoui
Peace Hotel (Wai)
I Can't Sleep (Denis)
Cutter's Way (Passer)
Gorky Park (Apted)
Memories of Murder (Bong)

Last Friday, I was driving through Cortland and what do I see?  Another Hollywood Video going out of business!  Of course I stopped.  3 for $10.  After about half an hour and a large stack of DVDs, I walked away without buying a thing.  I decided that finding this sale was not a blessing.  It was a temptation to be resisted.  I need to get rid of books and DVDs and read and watch what I already have.  I don't need more.  I do not.  No!



Anonymous said...

Prevention is better than cure.......................................................

Anonymous said...